When Knox College and Lake Forest College squared off in Knox’s Memorial Gymnasium last Thursday, it was clear each team had something to play for.
With only three conference matches remaining, Knox had an opportunity to end a seven-game losing streak and notch the season’s first conference win.
For Lake Forest, currently in a three-way tie for second place in the conference, it was a must-win if they wanted to narrow the gap behind first-place Monmouth.
And yet with everything that was at stake last week, both schools knew they were there was a greater cause to play for.
Oct. 13 marked the beginning of the Midwest Conference’s “Play for the Cure” campaign, a month-long initiative meant to raise money and awareness for cancer research at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. While the game was free to the public, donations were encouraged. U.S. News & World Report ranked St. Jude the number one children’s cancer hospital in the world.
“There is an active local community of St. Jude supporters, former patients and families, and a few of them were in attendance,“ Knox coach Kim Schrader said. “It was good to have our teams share this opportunity.”
Knox players welcomed the match’s added significance.
“We were playing for everyone that isn’t able to do the things they love every day,” freshman setter Nina Mack said. “I realized how blessed I am to be able to play the sport that I love.”
Despite the abundance of goodwill, the points were in short supply for the Prairie Fire (5-15, 0-5 MWC), who could not find their first conference win. Lake Forest swept the match 3-0 (25-16, 25-17, 25-16).
As has often been the case this season, the Fire were backed by strong performances from junior Kelly Ricketts and freshman hitter Kaylie Prince. Ricketts led the team with 11 kills and nine digs, while Prince finished with four kills and eight digs. Additional help came from Mack, who finished with 16 assists and five digs.
The visiting Foresters (10-12, 3-2 MWC) were led to their third conference victory by a pair of sophomores, hitter Cori Cooper and setter Tia Rupnik. Cooper finished with eight kills, while Rupnik had 13 digs and two service aces.
As a team, Lake Forest finished the match with 38 kills to Knox’s 24.
“We need to continue to come together and learn to stay focused throughout the entire match, “ Mack said.
The Fire hope to get back on track for the remainder of the season by cutting down on unforced errors and learning from their mistakes.
“We have to stay focused and continue to make improvements in our play each time we take the court,” Schrader said.
Win or lose, both teams both knew what mattered most last Thursday.
For additional information on donating to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, visit www.stjude.org or call 800-805-5856.
On Saturday, the volleyball team hosted Grinnell College and Iowa Wesleyan College for a triangular at Memorial Gym.
In the first match, Grinnell (10-10, 4-2 MWC) swept Knox 3-0. The first game was not close as Grinnell won 25-16. But the Pioneers narrowly defeated the Prairie Fire in the final two games, winning 28-26 and 25-23. Ricketts led Knox with 12 kills. Prince also notched 9 kills in the loss.
Against Iowa Wesleyan College (7-19), Knox was swept again. Iowa Wesleyan won the three games 25-18, 25-22, 25-15. Ricketts again led the Prairie Fire with 10 kills.
The Prairie Fire (5-16, 0-7 MWC) hit the road this weekend for two matches in Wisconsin. On Friday Oct. 22, they will take on Carroll University (15-9, 2-3 MWC) and on Saturday Oct. 23 they will visit Ripon College (11-16, 2-3 MWC).
These will be the final two Midwest Conference games for the Prairie Fire, who are looking to snap a ten-game losing streak.
After that, the Prairie Fire will head to Milwaukee, Wis. for a trio of games at the Cardinal Stritch Univesity tournament. The Prairie Fire will take on host Cardinal Stritch, Clarke College and Benedictine University-Springfield.
Ricketts atop MWC
Though Knox is at the bottom of the standings, Ricketts is tops in the conference in kills, averaging 4.11 per game. She also holds the conference mark in 2010 for kills in a five-game match, with 26 against Robert Morris on Sept. 11. Ricketts also holds the second-highest single-game total, with 25 kills, also against Robert Morris, this time on Sept. 18.
If Ricketts continues this pace, she stands a good chance of making the All-Conference First-Team for the second consecutive season. Ricketts, a junior from Galesburg, Ill., transferred to Knox from the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Ill. before last season. Ricketts had 449 total kills last season, which led the conference.
Mack is also second in the conference in service aces, averaging .48 per game. Ricketts is ninth in this category, averaging .40 per game.
Knox, as a team, is actually second in the Midwest Conference with 1.84 service aces per game. They are last in the conference in every other category.