The Prairie Fire women’s basketball team used two last-second free throws from junior Erin Navolio to defeat conference foe Grinnell 71-69 on Feb. 11, to earn its third conference victory of the season. The good fortune could not hold on, however, as the women dropped a weekend contest at Lake Forest, 83-53, before returning home to a heartbreaking defeat to Illinois College, 46-42. In the final matchup against the Lady Blues, the Fire also bid farewell to its lone senior, Hayle Gosnell.
In the game against the Grinnell Lady Pioneers, Knox opened the game on a 12-5 run in the first six minutes. The Fire countered 18 first-half points from Grinnell’s Jessica Schotts with nine points from freshman Krystyna Williams and eight more from Navolio. Grinnell, though, still led 38-34 at the break.
The two teams traded buckets until about five minutes into the second half, when Knox began a 6-0 run and took its first lead in nearly 20 minutes on a Lynn Mueller basket with 13:30 left. The Fire increased its lead to as much as five near the eight-minute mark, but Grinnell regained a four-point advantage with a 12-3 run of its own.
Down the stretch, the teams played even basketball before the Fire tied the game at 67 on a field goal from junior Kate Moon with two minutes to play. Two Navolio free throws gave Knox the lead before Grinnell’s Jessica Vaverka tied the game with 25 seconds to play on a field goal of her own. However, Vaverka committed a crucial foul with five seconds to play, and Navolio sank both shots from the charity stripe, giving Knox the 71-69 victory.
“We finally came together as a team and showed the conference and ourselves what we are capable of,” said sophomore Amanda Sicoli, who scored six points in the game with a perfect night from the field. “It was an amazing game.”
Navolio scored 17 points, leading the Fire. Junior Ali Hidden, Mueller, and Williams ended in double figures, with 14, 13, and 10 points respectively. Junior Kate Moon added eight points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Hidden contributed seven rebounds in a big effort off the bench.
Saturday’s game at Lake Forest was an entirely different story, however. Although the Fire again received big scoring efforts from Navolio and Mueller and a somewhat unexpected scoring effort from sophomore reserve Carly Kirven, Lake Forest took the contest, 83-53.
Even though the Fire struck first on a Navolio jumper, the Lady Foresters took control relatively early and never relinquished it. They took the lead with a free throw three minutes into the game and led 16-7, 30-15, and 46-21 before holding a 46-26 halftime lead.
The trend continued for the Fire in the second half, as Lake Forest led by as much as 37 points before finally winning by 30.
Navolio scored 14 points, again leading the Fire in scoring. Mueller added 11 more. Kirven contributed 10 points of her own off the bench in her best effort of the season. The Fire’s biggest struggles, though, came on the boards – the Lady Foresters out-rebounded Knox 49-18.
Last night’s game against Illinois College offered a bittersweet way for Gosnell to bid adieu to her teammates on the court. Gosnell, donning a pink warm-up t-shirt with the rest of her teammates in honor of breast cancer awareness, was honored with her parents in a pre-game ceremony. A three-year letter-winner and four-year team member, Gosnell averaged 2.8 points per game as the starting two-guard coming into the evening.
“Basketball’s been a part of my life for 12 years,” Gosnell said before the game. “When I step on the court tonight, I just want to enjoy every moment I have out there. And when I step off, I want to do so knowing I gave it my all and left it out on the court.”
Knox jumped out to a 15-8 lead 10 minutes into the game, including a three-pointer from Gosnell, but the senior from DeKalb was held in check the rest of the evening. Outside of Gosnell’s farewell, the Fire defense was the story of the night, and Knox held a 25-18 lead at intermission. Moon scored eight first-half points on 3-6 shooting from the field. She also added six boards.
Knox held the lead until a Danielle Alpers tied the game at 30 with 12:08 to go in the second half. The Lady Blues scored two of many second chance points. The Fire would take its final lead at 38-37 on a Mueller steal and fast break, but would again lose the lead on the next I.C. possession.
Knox tied the game two more times, but could never get over the threshold. A Rachel Macon field goal with 3:26 remaining put the Lady Blues up for good. Macon was the Fire’s kryptonite the entire night, scoring 15 points and pulling down 14 boards for Illinois College.
With Knox trailing by two possessions with five seconds to play, Coach Emily Cline was able to get Gosnell the final ovation she deserved by substituting in Sicoli. Every Knox fan in Memorial Gymnasium rose to his or her feet one final time for the departing senior, who was met with high fives and hugs upon returning to the bench. A futile, last-second shot from the corner by Mueller went awry, and the Lady Blues escaped with a 46-42 victory, spoiling Gosnell’s senior night.
But her words seemed still undaunted. “This is the most success we’ve had in a long time and more than anyone expected,” Gosnell said. “I really clicked well with all the girls; this was the most fun I’ve had.
“I want people to see me as a person who came in and gave it all for all four years,” she said when asked what she wanted her legacy to be. “I definitely see myself as a leader and hope everyone knows me as someone who gave my all to help the program.”