The first day of practice for any team is often filled with a lot of unknowns.
That goes threefold for Hastings senior Matthew Radke. Two weeks ago Radke stepped onto a practice tee with the Raiders boys’ golf team for the first time this spring to what seemed like an entirely new program.
“It’s a little shocking,” he said.
Radke, who first made the varsity golf team as a seventh-grader, is the lone returner from Hastings’ state tournament team of a year ago. Five of that team’s six starters graduated. Throw in that the Raiders switched conferences — from the Suburban East to the Metro East — and will have a new home course with the recent closing of Hastings Country Club.
As Radke said, “there will be a lot of adjustments” to be made.
The one aspect that hasn’t changed is the team’s expectations.
“I don’t think it’s any different,” Radke said. “If we play solid golf, like we have, we can make it back to state. We just need [six] guys to come together and play some good golf.”
Aside from Radke, Hastings coach Pete McGinnis is the other constant for the team. Entering his 18th season at the helm, McGinnis has built a program that had more than 50 kids sign up this year. Hastings has four teams — varsity, junior varsity, B squad and what McGinnis refers to as a “developmental team.”
“We really focus on getting kids to come out and get into the sport,” he said. “We want everyone to develop and get better, and move up the ladder.”
That approach is a major reason neither McGinnis nor Radke is overly concerned with the team’s recent turnover.
McGinnis said that at this early point in the season he has 12 to 14 players who have an opportunity to claim one of the six varsity spots. Seniors Lucas Wagner and Joe Dittrich, as well as juniors Garrett Tuin and Brady Gullicks, could step into big roles, McGinnis said.
“It’ll be very competitive, that’s for sure,” he said.
Radke has never played a nine-hole match. The Metro East slate is full of them, mostly set up as two- or three-team meets.
“To be honest, I don’t really know how the nine-hole matches work,” he said. “I’ve never had to do one. That’ll be all new to me.
“You can’t really make a mistake on a hole. You have to play it smart and be consistent, because you don’t have nine holes after it to make up shots.”
The course changes — both their home course and those of opponents — will be a big adjustment, too, McGinnis said. “A lot of the kids will be [competing] on courses they’ve never played before.”
But, as Radke put it, the team simply needs to focus on what it can control: each player playing his own game, and playing as well as he can.
Radke, who will play golf at St. Thomas next fall, finished tied for 37th in the 2014 Class 3A state tournament. His goal this year? Win an individual state title, and hopefully lead the Raiders out of Section 1 to state for the third consecutive year.
“I just want to go out and play my best golf,” he said. “No matter what else changes, you can always focus on that.”