The Knox College Prairie Fire men’s and women’s soccer teams have both been on a surge to open their respective 2013 campaigns.
After finishing last year with records of 6-9-2 and 3-14 respectively, both teams have improved thus far to 9-1 for men’s (2-0 in conference) and 5-4 for women’s (0-2 in conference), which gives the program a total record of 14-5 halfway through their seasons.
Through its first seven matches, the women’s team produced its best record in over 20 years. The 1990 squad also won five of its first seven matches, finishing the season with a 10-4 overall record, including a 4-2 mark in conference play. Senior Brynn Cole believes that one of the reasons for the women’s turnaround is recruiting. Rather than bringing in players who were just interested in soccer, the team is full of women who respect the game and love it.
“Over the past few years, my class included, we have been recruiting more and more soccer players, rather than girls that happen to play soccer. The knowledge, skill and respect for the game are at a higher level than they have been across the board … we have been able to take another step forward for Knox women’s soccer.”
Skill is an obvious aspect of a winning team, but chemistry too plays an integral role. Lack of cohesion has been known to ruin plenty of star studded teams (see the 2012-13 Lakers who, despite Kobe, Nash and Dwight Howard staggered into the playoffs and bowed out after four consecutive losses), but such is not the case with this Knox women’s team.
“The unity of this team is incredible, and perhaps the most significant contribution to our current results,” senior Raleigh DeRose said. “Everyone has bonded on and off the field this year and as a result, when we come together to train, it is always a positive environment. Each person is supporting her other 19 teammates in their progress and encouraging them when most needed.”
Head Coach Melissa Joseph has played a huge part in the program’s turnaround: Senior Kate Babington believes that Coach Joseph’s attitude and spirit has spread among the team, from freshman to senior.
“She is so enthusiastic about our system and what we do every day that it’s hard not to get excited about our program as well,” Babington said. “She has a contagious energy that we can’t help but latch onto. Coach Joseph really cares about all of us and she makes that known every day.”
The latter half of last season was eye opening for the supporters of the men’s soccer team and those in conference. Knox rallied with a 5-3-1 record to end the season. Coach Matt Edwards noted the team’s marked improvement, saying that Knox men’s soccer was no longer a “cupcake” team.
Starting off the 2013 season, the men lost to a nationally ranked opponent in DePauw University, which they attributed to the nerves associated with starting the season anew. Since then, they have been on a nine game winning streak, with big performances coming from sophomores Charlie Harned and Nathaniel Logie and senior Maxwell Gatyas.
Gatyas stated that the coaching change was able to jump start the men’s team and put them where they need to be.
“Quite simply, the dedication of the individual players as well as the coaching staff has grown massively since my first two years,” Gatyas said. “In my first years at Knox, our coaching staff struggled to dedicate the time necessary for a program to compete at the conference level. Fortunately, we were able to bring Matt in and his dedication to improving the program was infectious.”
Gatyas did not stop there, saying, “We have a better, more qualified coaching staff and the players on the team are more aware of what it takes to win at the conference level. The improvement in the results is a direct effect of us humbling ourselves and being more educated and diligent as players.”
When the men defeated Lawrence University 1-0 this past weekend, the Prairie Fire’s win streak hit nine. The last time such a streak occurred was in 1988, when the team finished 10-2-1, and, incidentally, was the last time men’s soccer hoisted a MWC championship trophy.
There are no championship predictions here, but this squad has everything it takes to be one of the best teams in Knox history. Says Gatyas, “Matt has the ability and dedication to make our team much better and more dangerous than we should be. Matt’s ability to beat the opponent tactically in combination with the team’s willingness to out-work the opponent makes us exponentially better than we should be. His system gives us a chance to win soccer matches. Last year we improved massively, and this year we have the opportunity to improve even more.”