Bradley’s Men’s Golf head coach Jeff Roche has emphasized since day one that his team, one of the youngest in the Missouri Valley Conference this season, just needs to “keep learning.”
What better place to continue learning than at each player’s first conference championship?
On Monday, the Braves traveled to Flossmoor, Illinois to participate in the Missouri Valley Conference Men’s Golf Championship. The nine-team tournament took place at the par-72 Flossmoor Country Club and was hosted by Loyola-Chicago. After play wrapped up Tuesday, the Braves finished with a total of 936, good for sixth overall.
“It was definitely a new thing for everybody and you could tell that some guys were outside of their comfort zones at times,” graduate Alex Ciaramitaro said. “That experience will be huge next year”
The Braves, who were picked to finish last by league coaches last Friday, started hot, shooting 297 (+9) over the first 18 holes. Junior Jalen Hodges paced the Braves, posting a 1-over-par 73, while Ciaramitaro followed close behind, shooting a 2-over 74 to put the Braves in second behind tournament-host Loyola.
“The last two tournaments we’ve started off pretty strong,” Roche said. “This start, it’s a personal best, so we can take some pride in that, but the next phase is to not try and duplicate that first round.”
That next phase came into play when the strong start for the Braves was dashed in the second round when they struggled to hit key shots at the gusty course. After 36 holes, the Braves stood tied in fourth as Ciaramitaro led the pack, despite bogeying nine of eighteen holes andcarding a 5-over 77. Close behind were sophomore Roy Radke and freshman Brady Kreiter, who both added an 8-over-par round of 80.
On Tuesday, the Braves returned to the course and turned in a +33 performance. Ciaramitaro once again led the group, firing a 5-over 77, while freshman Josh Kirkham placed second among the Braves, carding an 8-over 80. Overall the Braves finished sixth, as Loyola upset unanimous tournament favorite Illinois State for the title.
“As much as being in second, and being tied for fourth, was great, there’s value in fighting for maintaining your position,” Roche said.
The Braves’ performance Tuesday was a lackluster way to end the tournament, but, if anything, they outperformed expectations this weekend by showing how high the ceiling for the team can be.
Roche will now certainly look forward to next season and the Braves, now with much more experience, will look to continue to improve and build upon a successful year.
Even with the departure of Ciaramitaro, the team should expect to see young standouts Kreiter, Radke, Kirkham, freshman John Stillman, a veteran to help lead the way in Hodges and other young faces to continue the development of this team.
“Across the board, all scoring averages need to lower if we’re going to compete for a tournament title as much as a conference title,” Roche said.”Really [our] mindset is going to be the biggest change needed for next year.”
Of course, if “learning” was the goal this year, it could be exciting to see the results when the team returns to the course in the fall.