The Prairie Fire volleyball team was again on the court on Tuesday, Oct. 28, in their final match of conference play, and in the penultimate match of the season. For this contest, the Lake Forest College Foresters, possessors of a 3-4 conference record, came to Galesburg to face the young women of Knox upon Heimann Court.
“All season, I’ve been saying that we need to play to our strengths, and take advantage of what we can,” said Knox head coach Kim Schrader. “At the beginning of the season, after we won our first game, we said we want to bookend our season with wins, at the very least.”
While it was not the final match, finishing conference play with a win is always a great way to close out a season. The team was clearly ready to play and show the team from Lake Forest what the new-look Prairie Fire is all about.
The first game was another example of Knox’s inability to start a match off quickly, and they were down 12-4 in swift fashion. The Lake Forest defense was doing its best impression of a brick wall, and any time anyone on the Fire side was able to set up a nice spike for junior Katharina Schulte, senior Jaclyn Anderson, or junior Christina Davis, there were at least three Foresters there to block them. About half-way through the game, momentum shifted briefly as they were able to mount a brief comeback and pull within five. Davis in particular showed her ability off, as she was able make a beautiful block to save a point, then come right back and slam the ball down Lake Forest’s throat. It was all for naught though, and Knox eventually fell 25-20, unable to go more than point for point with Lake Forest.
Game two started off strongly for Knox, as more fans trickled in and the student section became more boisterous and supportive. The Prairie Fire pulled ahead to an early lead, hammering the ball into Lake Forest’s side of the floor with authority. It did not help, as luck was on the Foresters’ side, and a couple of slippery little shots landed right for them as Knox found themselves down 3-1. At this point, complacency seemed to settle in for the visitors. They also did not take into account the ground rules of Heimann Court, as a set shot flew high and hit the ceiling, which is in play, and fell right at the feet of one lady in red.
Lake Forest was not to be denied, however, and came back from being down 5-4, to lead 6-5. Knox made them look foolish again on a little dink of a shot, and their front line collapsed. Knox was looking good at this point, but then number 12 of Lake Forest, Mandy Mulliner, exploded, pounding the ball over the net repeatedly to hand the lead back to the Foresters. From there it was downhill for Knox, and though they tied it back up at 20, the game ended in Lake Forest’s hands, 25-23. It was close, and it was to be the story of the rest of the match.
Game three was a must-win for Knox. Lake Forest came out strong, but the Fire defense was nothing short of iron-clad, letting only very lucky shots drop. After they pulled ahead 6-3, the Foresters began to coast, and suffered from some incredibly inspired play from Anderson, who was almost everywhere on the court. It was a neck-and-neck battle, but the momentum shifted to Knox at about the 13-12 mark and from there, it was almost inevitable that the Foresters would blow it. When it was 20-17 in Knox’s favor, it was over, and Knox walked to the other side with a win under their belt.
Game four was possibly the best piece of volleyball, or at least the most exciting, the Prairie Fire have played all season. It was back and forth from the beginning, tied at five. Mistakes, more than skill, kept Knox in the game, but you take what you can get sometimes. Lake Forest pulled ahead 10-8 as Knox was caught on their heels, but came back, and Schulte pulled the Fire within one at 11-10, as they collapsed around a beautiful serve she smacked at them. The Foresters were able to firm up after a time-out, and came back to pull ahead 19-16, with victory in their grasp. The match was tied up again at 20 with prodigious play by the seniors of Knox, freshman Lisa Blagg, and of course Schulte and Davis, and they pulled ahead to lead 22-20, almost ready to force game five. It was sadly not to be though, as bad luck and good play went to Lake Forest’s side, and the game closed out at 25-23, Foresters, and a crushed Prairie Fire walked off the court.
“Its disappointing to lose after playing so well,” Schrader said. “But it’s important to recognize that you’ve come a long ways. We played some of the best volleyball we’ve played all season. Our offense was great, took advantage of holes we saw, and our defense was great at times. A lot of balls could have hit the floor that we dug up.”
For all her praise despite the scoreboard, though, the problem as Schrader saw it was, “Serves. We missed a lot of serves. We missed more than four, and that was the game right there.”
The other problem, she saw, was the slow starts the team suffered from. “We dig ourselves into a big hole, and it’s hard to get back out of it. After the middle of the first game we played great, but the beginning got us.”
Despite the loss, Schrader looks to today’s game, against Greenville College. It is senior night, and the team looks to get that other bookend in to close out the season.
“We lost to Greenville earlier in the year, so we are looking to avenge that,” Schrader said. “We just need to stay focused, and work on those serves.”
The game is at 7 p.m. tonight so get out there, and give those seniors, Jaclyn Anderson and Shannon Liston, the respect they deserve.