Morris golf coach Matt Lafond has an interesting way of describing what he is most excited about as the 2013 prep season gets underway for his Redskins.
“The unknown,” he said wryly at practice at Morris Country Club on Tuesday afternoon.
After last year’s strange end to the season, perhaps that is appropriate. One season ago with the locals coming off their first regional title ever, the Redskins advanced four individuals out of the Joliet Catholic Academy Regional – yet failed to qualify as a team for sectional action. Strange and unforeseen.
Still, you’d think after that kind of season and the way the team graduated key seniors, the unknown would make Lafond cringe these days.
“I cringe, but then it’s good to know that we really don’t know,” he said. “Hopefully they [the team] are going to surprise me.”
While the unknown is likely to keep Lafond’s adrenaline going throughout the season, he does have a couple of “well-knowns” in senior Justin Larsen and junior Trevor Lines.
“I do know that Justin is more than capable of getting himself all the way to where he wants to be. That’s playing in October down in Decatur,” Lafond said. “Trevor’s the same way. He knows that’s where he needs to be at the end of the season.”
Lines scored a 94 at the regional last year and Larsen a 97, joining graduated seniors Ryan Borgstrom (87) and Michael McPherson (95) as individuals who advanced to sectional action. Both Lines and Larsen are eager for the competitions to begin.
“I’m looking forward to playing some competitive golf. To golf when there is actually something on the line,” Lines said. “A lot of the guys have been out here and practicing a lot, and I feel that we have improved as a team since last year, even though we did lose a lot of our top players.”
“I’m really excited to go out there and put it all on the line and record the best scores that I can,” Larsen said. “I want to take all of that hard work that I’ve put in over the summer and put it out on the course and see what I do. Win some tournaments and get some top 10s and help the golf team as much as I can.”
That is probably going to have to be the case if the Redskins are to put a decent season together this fall, with the pressure squarely on the shoulders of the senior leader in Larsen.
“I don’t think Justin knows what pressure is. He’s just that kind of guy,” Lafond said. “He’s the same person no matter if he is shooting under par or 15 over par. He’s a great guy to have on the team because everybody feeds off of that.”
After Larsen and Lines comes the real unknown for the Redskins.
“I was cautious and even worried about the team coming into the year, but from what I’ve seen so far it looks like everybody has improved a lot,” Lines said. “I think we definitely have a chance to do some good things this year.”
“As a team, I know we’re going to be young,” Larsen said. “We have a lot of guys coming in as freshmen that aren’t going to be as developed, but as they keep working at it, they’ll be fine over the next few years. This year we may not be as great as we want it to be, but it could be a good building year for everybody.”
Lafond said he has 18 members on the team this year, which is a good building block.
“It’s unfortunate some of the guys are not going to be able to accompany us for matches where we can take eight and eight – for varsity and JV teams, but it’s a good number for us to have,” he said. “It’s nice to not be hurting for numbers. It’s good to have a few extras in case anything happens.”
Lafond said those on the roster who are expected to vie for varsity time this year are juniors Gabe Sajnaj, Kendall Enger and Hailey Hoaglund.
“The unfortunate thing is that Hailey is such an unknown right now because she has a back injury and hasn’t really been able to get on the course much,” Lafond said. “Kendall and Gabe have potential if they continue to work at it.”
After that, Lafond says he is looking at other underclassmen to pitch in at the varsity level.
“Sophomores Nick Bonomo and Nick McPherson, for sure, are going to be pushing their way up,” he said. “Even freshman Jake Hulbert has that chance if he continues to work and continues to get better.”
But can that kind of a team mesh together quickly enough to get out of a regional as a team this year?
“I think so. I know a few of the guys on this team can get hot and get a good rhythm and if they can do that, then we could definitely come away with a regional championship,” Larsen said. “But the guys are going to have to continue to work, play their games and not let the nerves get to them. It could be a possibility. I’d like to see us go as far as we can. We’ll see what happens.”
It would go a long way toward washing last year’s disappointment away.
“I wouldn’t classify what happened last year as a disappointment,” Lafond said. “It was unfortunate that we got four guys out and that’s all you need is four to get the team out. It wasn’t a disappointment. The guys went out and played their best. We still had four guys get out of the regional. I can’t say that it happens very often. It is unusual. As far as this year goes, the expectations are there. Obviously two years ago we won a regional for the first time and last year had four guys get out. Looking at it this year, the expectations are there again. We have a solid team, even though we are a young team. We’ve got a good shot at it. Though, obviously it will come down to the regional draw and who we are paired with.”
Many of the teams that the Redskins could get paired with at regional time will be at the first tournament of the year that Morris attends – the Lemont Shootout on Friday afternoon.
“It’s a great way to start the season. It’s a pretty good-sized tournament at a decent course at Broken Arrow,” Lafond said. “They are even having a featured group of folks who have done well at amateur events. So, it’s a great way to start the season because there is going to be a lot of good competition there.”
After that, there is one other remaining place that Lafond would like to see his team make a statement this year.
“The one particular course that I look forward to is Blackberry Oaks, which is Yorkville’s home course. More than anything, I’d like to bring home a ‘W’ against them,” he said about the Northern Illinois Big 12 East rival. “They’ve always gotten us in the past event though we’ve had some close ones against them. We usually are there two or three times a year. Blackberry is a good spot to go.”