After finishing eighth out of nine teams at last year’s Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Championship, the Loyola men’s golf team spent its summer with a chip on its shoulder. With the 2019 season starting next week, head coach Erik Hoops said his team’s ready to put that disappointing finish behind them.
“Obviously, our MVC finish wasn’t exactly what we hoped for,” Hoops said. “Obviously, everyone was kind of upset about it. … I talked to all the guys after it was over and was like, ‘Hey, here’s your motivation for what to work on this upcoming summer because we can’t let it happen again.’”
Loyola returns four players from last year’s starting five, only losing Orion Yamat and his 75.7 stroke average, which ranked third on the roster. But Yamat struggled during the MVC Championship and, since only the top four scores count toward the total, his scores didn’t count after the first two rounds.
That means the lowest scores came from the four players who return in 2019. With the season set to start Sept. 16-17 at the Crusader Collegiate tournament in Valparaiso, Indiana, senior Justin LaFrance called this year’s team “the best team we’ve had in my four years at Loyola.”
But LaFrance, 22, told The Phoenix he won’t be playing in the first tournament after re-injuring his back during practice leading up to the Crusader Collegiate. He initially suffered back spasms halfway through last year’s fall season and missed one tournament with the injury.
The team has depth as first-years Timmy Crawford, Nolan Doherty and Zach Walsh join the team. Crawford has already made some noise in practice, carding a 4-under-par 68 during a qualifying round for the first tournament — which was a lower score than seven of the nine golfers who played last season. Sophomore Nate Vance, 20, said it’s made practice more competitive as the nine players on the roster try to land a spot in the starting lineup.
“I think we have three really good freshmen … but they definitely have been pushing the older guys on the team to step up and earn their spots for this year,” Vance said. “We’ve seen some pretty good rounds out of those guys. I’m sure they can jump right in and help out in the lineup.”
Hoops took over as head coach in spring 2016, meaning he has a roster full of players he recruited for the first time. Now that he’s coaching players who he thought would fit his game plan, he said the pressure’s not just on them to succeed — it’s also on him.
“I told [the team], ‘Look, I’m placing a ton of pressure, as well, on myself because now, I’ve brought all of you guys with a specific purpose and specific goal we’ve had in mind,’” Hoops said. “What we’ve been doing as a team hasn’t been enough, and what I’ve been doing as a coach hasn’t been enough because clearly, we haven’t reached those goals just yet.”
Hoops said although his top goal is to win multiple tournaments, he’s curious to see where the Ramblers stack up against other MVC teams. To find that benchmark, Hoops scheduled tournaments in which some of the other MVC teams would be competing.
“I set up our schedule in a way that hopefully will build some confidence for the guys,” Hoops said. “Each tournament we play at, I tell the guys, ‘Circle the MVC schools. Those are the schools that we need to beat, those are the schools that we want to beat.’”
Loyola’s schedule starts with the Crusader Collegiate and continues with four more tournaments through Oct. 21-22, when the team takes its winter break before starting the spring portion of the schedule — which ends with the MVC Championship in south suburban Flossmoor April 27-28.