Megan Burke/ The Standard

Missouri State’s men’s golf team prepared for the Missouri Valley Conference Championship and will go for its first championship win since 1993.

The Bears took fourth place in the tournament last year, with Wichita State winning it all. This year, in a pre-championship poll, Missouri State was voted to place third with Southern Illinois in second and Illinois State voted to place first.

Missouri State played in 10 tournaments in 2017-18, with the highest finish being a tie for first at the Austin Peay/F&M Bank Intercollegiate in Dickson, Tennessee.

With not finishing where they would’ve liked in the MVC tournament a season ago, the Bears spent all season preparing for the MVC Championship.

“The team’s preparation has been good,” head coach Neal Stafford said. “I have seen a nice buildup from the guys throughout the season toward this week.”

Stafford is hoping to turn things around and take first by attempting something unusual.

“We will be playing the same starting lineup as last year’s Valley Championship in Chicago,” Stafford said. “That is a rarity and something that will be to our advantage.”

Last year’s lineup consisted of juniors Jack Knoesel, Brad Carpenter, Kory Franks, Adam Fisher and sophomore Lukas McCalla. 

These players have been preparing for the tournament and have tried to adjust their games for the course — such as Fisher, who has learned from his teammates the preferred ball flight.

“I haven’t played the golf course before, but my team has said it is long and hitting the ball from right to left is the preferred ball flight,” Fisher said. “So, I’ve been making sure I’m hitting my driver solid and hitting draws.”

Fisher, for example, worked on adjusting to the course while Knoesel polished his game and mentally prepared.

“As far as preparation goes, I’m just getting my game as sharp as possible,” Knoesel said. “I’m also trying to prepare my mind for the course I am about to play.”

In the previous year, Knoesel was the highest-placing golfer for the Bears, finishing sixth in the championship tournament.

With the tournament being played at Dalhousie in Cape Girardeau, Stafford said that the team will have a certain level of comfort with the course.

“We are looking forward to arriving and getting a good look at Dalhousie on Saturday and Sunday,” Stafford said. “There is some familiarity with the course as it has hosted several amateur events in years past.”

Not only does Stafford think they will have an advantage with the course, but he also believes experience will be helpful.

“We have three guys that have won a collegiate event in the last two years,” Stafford said. “Having that experience to lean on will be very valuable.”

Two of those wins came this year from Fisher, who won the Twin Oaks Intercollegiate and Brad Carpenter, who took first at the Sam Hall Intercollegiate.

For the team to win and move on, Fisher said a couple of players need to have individual success. 

Fisher said when the team does well they usually have one or two players that do really well and the rest finish in the top 25 percent. 

He said if they can do that, they should do well. 

Knoesel is hoping he can do well and help the team succeed. He said he needs to do his best on every hole to give himself a chance to finish strong. 

“That’s what I play for — the chance to win,” Knoesel said. “If I do my job, then the team does well.”

While Stafford said he is very confident in his team being prepared for the week, the most important thing is how the Bears deal with the unique situations they will be placed in for this team to win.

The Bears will have stiff competition to win the MVC Championship with Illinois State’s Zach Burry, who earned MVC Golfer of the Week after a dominating performance at the Tiger Invitational on April 9-10.

Missouri State will also face Southern Illinois’ Peyton Wilhoit, who earned seven MVC Golfer of the Week awards.

The tournament began on April 23. Teams played 36 holes on Monday and  will play 18 holes on Tuesday. Tee time was 8 a.m. for Tuesday.