The men’s soccer team came into this Saturday’s game against St. Norbert hoping to make it a memorable Senior Day for seniors Donald Tchopya, Michael Gasparro, Luca Rajola-Pescarini and Min Quang Do. While the game provided moments of brilliance, Knox once again came up short, falling 2-1, their sixth one-goal loss of the season.
After a scoreless first half it was Knox that drew first blood in the 62nd minute when Tchopya scored what will likely be considered the goal of the year and probably his career. Tchopya dribbled half the length of the field, faked out multiple defenders in the box and squeaked the ball just underneath the Green Knights goalie.
According to head coach Matt Edwards, Tchopya had set a preseason mark to score 10 goals this season, and though the tally was just his seventh of the year, Tchopya remained ecstatic in the moment as he elicited a giant roar from the Knox fans when he performed a front-flip in the middle of the field in celebration.
With the lead and the crowd on their feet, the momentum was all in the Prairie Fire’s favor, but the Green Knights would not go quietly. Five minutes after the opening goal, St. Norbert took advantage of a break in the Knox back line, and after some hesitation from freshman goaltender Sean McGovern , St. Norbert’s Nathan Angell scored to the tie the game 1-1.
The Green Knights would strike again just six minutes later, this time on a diving header from Hunter Yewman. Yewman proceeded to press his fingers to his lips as the Knox crowd quieted, and the celebration only fueled the already flaring tempers on the field.
The game featured 10 yellow cards, nine of which came in the second half and included an altercation between Knox sophomore Jacob Polay and St. Norbert’s Trevor Scales.
In the game’s final 20 minutes, solid defensive play from the back four kept Knox in the game while Knox mounted numerous offensive attacks. The most prominent of the Prarie Fire’s chances came from an all-out hustle play by Polay. After coming off the bench to shouts of “Free Polay”from the crowd, sprinted down the sideline, Polay stole the ball from a St. Norbert defender and had an open one-on-one opportunity with the keeper. His shot missed just to the right of the post, causing the crowd to let out a collective gasp.
Though Knox scrambled intensely in the final minutes, another opportunity never came. When the final horn blew, many Knox players fell on the field, exhausted. For the seniors, the final game represented not 90 minutes of intensity, but years of hard work.
“College soccer was not something I thought I could do. … It’s been an up and down experience here but I’m glad I played all four years,” Gasparro said. “To finish with a season like this, one of the best we’ve had in recent memory, to have a coach like [Edwards] it’s good to see the program heading in the right direction.”
Knox finished with six victories this season, the most for the men’s soccer program since the 1999 squad won seven games.
And considering the one-goal losses as well as the two ties the Prairie Fire earned this season, the team did not play like one that finished three games below .500. With nine starters returning next year, there is no reason not to the think the Prairie Fire will compete for one of the top spots in the Midwest Conference next season.