Raymond Knoll was in attendance for Tuesday’s McGonagle Invitational at Naperville Country Club, sporting his familiar orange team shirt from 2012.
But he was just there as a spectator, a day before heading to Iowa City to begin his college career at Iowa.
The Naperville North boys golf team, which finished second in Class 3A last spring behind Knoll, has to face life without him after four spectacular seasons that saw the Huskies never lose a DuPage Valley Conference dual match.
“We miss Ray,” Naperville North coach Ryan Hantak said. “Most of our DVC coaches agree that Ray is maybe the best player, and one of the best people, that ever played in the conference. It’s a tough loss. But our kids coming back (have) worked hard.”
North shot a 306 to open the season at Naperbrook Monday, losing to champion Benet by nine strokes. The next day at the McGonagle, the Huskies lost to Benet by only one stroke. So they know they can still hang with the best, even without Knoll and the other seniors that graduated last year. Senior Michael Doherty is the lone starter back from the state squad.
“I was kind of happy,” Hantak said. “I knew we were still going to be really good, but we’re not going to be the powerhouse we were. The kids know that. It’s a different year. We’re going to have our good days and bad days.”
Junior Griffin Brown is one of the newcomers that Hantak is relying upon this season, and he earned medalist honors Tuesday with a 78, winning a scorecard playoff over Waubonsie Valley senior Jason Marrs.
Brown is looking forward to this group maintaining the legacy the program has gained the past few years.
“Ray was kind of the talk of everything last year,” Brown said. “It was like, ‘Oh, that’s the school Ray Knoll goes to.’ We’re deep enough that we can definitely make a run, and we’ll get even better as the season goes along because we have some guys that can shoot some low scores.”
Since the program has experienced so much success, and the younger players have seen it growing up, Hantak is not worried about the attitude of the players coming into the season.
“I think they know the tradition,” he said. “They’ve seen the success kids have had the last couple of years. That’s why they work hard in the offseason. They were really dedicated because they see what Ray and the other kids did last year. They want to duplicate that. They want to go downstate. They know we have a streak.”
The streak Hantak is referring to is the Huskies’ 34-match DVC winning streak — something Knoll and the other seniors left behind. It started in the first few matches prior to Knoll’s arrival in the program and continued all the way through.
“It’s a fun streak, but it’s more keeping our tradition alive,” Hantak said. “More important than winning, we want to make sure we remain a classy program, do the right things. The kids are doing a good job so far.”