James Michaelson's takeaway after the first day of high school boys golf tryouts at Prairie Isle in Prairie Grove had nothing to do with personal performance, the longest drive or the lowest score.
The Prairie Ridge senior was simply happy to be back with his teammates and best friends.
"We’re just having a lot of fun," Michaelson said. "We all had a lot of fun over the summer, doing our own thing. It’s nice to come back, see everyone again and get ready to compete as a team."
The Wolves figure to have a lot more fun this fall.
Prairie Ridge is coming off one of its most successful seasons in program history, capturing the Fox Valley Conference championship for the first time since 2004 and claiming its first regional title in 12 years.
Even with the departure of two-time, defending Northwest Herald Boys Golfer of the Year and Class 3A state runner-up Ethan Farnam (now a freshman at Northwestern), the Wolves again figure to be one of the FVC's top teams with four out of their top six golfers returning.
Senior Cameron Karney returns as Prairie Ridge's No. 1 after qualifying for the Class 3A state tournament last season, where he tied for 23rd. He was the only local junior to qualify. Also back are Michaelson and Joe Thompson, along with junior Dominic Leli.
Karney qualified for the 68th Illinois PGA Open last week, while the others also have had busy summers.
Thompson won the McHenry County Junior Golf Association boys senior division season title, and Michaelson and Leli each posted sub-80 averages in multiple Illinois Junior Golf Association tournaments – both qualifying for the Chick Evans Junior Amateur Championship in July.
In the first tournament of the high school season Thursday at Foxford Hills in Cary, Karney (72), Michaelson (76) and Leli (78) finished in the top five as the Wolves won by 15 strokes over Crystal Lake South.
Prairie Ridge posted a team score of 307, only five off the team's best performance last year.
"They all get along," Prairie Ridge coach Jonathan Powell said of this year's team. "These guys are playing all of the time together. It’s intrinsic for them, so it’s fun. 'Grit' is the word we are using this year. Just get them working hard to realize their potential and continue the culture that we’ve set in the program. They like each other, they play for each other, and they root for each other."
Powell won't set season expectations, such as winning another regional title or advancing to state as a team, but the Wolves are confident in their abilities up and down a talented lineup.
The Wolves missed the state cut by six shots last season in a loaded sectional.
"I think we’re going to do better than last year, honestly," Leli said. "We have four really good leaders and some really good sophomores and freshmen that can potentially be strong for us.
"We're all going to push each other. It's not just one guy."
Crystal Lake South emerged as a strong contender last year, finishing runner-up to Prairie Ridge in the FVC Tournament by seven strokes. The Gators are young but up-and-coming with juniors Casey Hunter and Griffin Coakley, sophomore John Lishchynsky and freshman Ricky Falbo.
Jacobs, which hoped to contend for a state berth last season, returns its entire varsity team, including Northwest Herald All-Area second-team pick Garrett Tighe and all-conference and sectional qualifier Daniel Leitner.
They also figure to give Prairie Ridge a run for the FVC crown.
"We all got better over the summer," Thompson said. "Jacobs and South both look good, but as long as everyone stays confident and plays to their abilities, we’re going to have a great chance of doing what we did last year, maybe better."