April 8, 2014
Editor's note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 8, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2013-14 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
By ERIC CLARK
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- No stranger to success, freshman Raymond Knoll stepped into the University of Iowa men's golf program last fall with intentions of pushing his game to the next level.
The Naperville, Ill., native's illustrious junior golf career ended with a first-place ranking in Illinois' class of 2013 AJGA Polo Golf Rankings. Knoll earned the ranking after breaking numerous records and dominating Illinois Class 3A golf for four years at Naperville North.
Knoll, who had been on UI head coach Mark Hankins' recruiting radar for a long time, signed a National Letter of Intent in November of 2012. Knoll joined Carson Schaake of Omaha, Neb., in Iowa's 2013 recruiting class, adding the two to a talent-laden roster.
"Ray is a winner," said Hankins. "He showed that he could hang in any kind of conditions. He has won on tight courses and open courses. He took his game to a new level last year, and we were fortunate to be on the top of his list."
Knoll jumped into Iowa's starting lineup for the 2013 Golfweek Conference Challenge, the Hawkeyes' first tournament of the 2013-14 season. While Knoll finished 42nd individually, he sent a message to Hankins that he was ready to compete at the collegiate level.
"This is the first time we've had a freshman come in and finish second in qualifying (rounds)," said Hankins. "He played well out of the gate and didn't let the pressure affect him. He's extremely consistent."
Knoll, who was heavily recruited by high-level programs, said Hankins and his development of the Iowa program sealed the deal.
"Coach Hankins is an incredible coach. He was the biggest reason why I came here," said Knoll. "All he has done for the program, turning it into a top-50 team year-after- year. I knew (committing to Iowa) was the right thing for me to do."
Perhaps most importantly, Knoll has made himself comfortable with older members of the squad while competing with them for playing time.
"He is his own kid, and he'll tell you that," said Hankins. "He plays well within the framework of our system. But the most beneficial thing for him, being a jovial kid, is that the other guys like him."
Having endeared himself to his teammates, Knoll finds himself aspiring to match their high levels of achievement.
"The older guys have had so much success," said Knoll. "Steven Ihm won the Sunnehanna Amateur, which was a huge accomplishment. Him having all his success, playing in a PGA event, has pushed me to set my own goals high."
Knoll has appeared in all three events of Iowa's spring season, posting a 2-1 record at the Big Ten Match Play Championships, a 1-0-1 record at the Big Four Exhibition, and notching a 32nd place finish at the Arizona State Thunderbird Invitational.
"He knows he can play better," said Hankins. "He didn't play well in tournaments for his standards, but the sky is the limit for him. He needs to continue to work hard, learn more about college golf as he goes, and hopefully he can break out this spring."
Iowa returns to action April 12-13, hosting the Hawkeye-Great River Entertainment Invitational at Finkbine Golf Course. Thirty-six holes will be played Saturday followed by the final 18 holes Sunday.