There are several players and teams around the Midwest Conference that can attest to one thing about the 2009 Knox College Women’s Basketball team: they played hard.
The Prairie Fire (10-13, 5-11 MWC) were among the best defenses in the conference last year, allowing only 63.8 points per game, while finishing second in steals (12.1 steals per game). They also turned in the highest single-game rebounding total of any team in the conference (59) in a victory over Caltech on December 19.
However, impassioned play did not always lead to victory for the Fire, who endured a season full of inconsistency. It seemed that with every blowout win, there would be an equally puzzling poor performance.
Within the course of three days last January, the Fire turned the ball over 31 times in a 65-51 loss to St. Norbert College and in their next game, earned the largest margin of victory for any team in the conference last year in an impressive 88-20 tromping of Lincoln Christian College.
That being said, consistency and mental toughness will be the themes for the Fire heading into this year.
Led by a seasoned corps of upperclassmen and a talented freshmen class, the Fire has high expectations.
“We’ve had a pretty intense pre-season: a lot of conditioning, weight training and skill enhancement. Everyone has spent time in the gym working on improving themselves in all areas,” junior Lynn Mueller said. “We’re like a family, so we’ll all do whatever it takes in order to help the overall good of the team.”
Mueller led the Fire in minutes last season, starting 21 of her 23 games. The veteran guard also averaged 7.7 points and 2.1 rebounds and looks to pick up where she left off last year.
Head coach Emily Cline, who is in her third season at Knox, believes that Knox has the potential to become a force in the MWC this year. The team’s 10 wins last season were the highest total since the 2001-02 team won 11 games. She sees her upperclassmen as the keys to that success.
“I think this team has a huge amount of potential and the sky is the limit if we can stay healthy and continue to improve,” Cline said. “[Senior guard] Jenny Haskell has the ability to be one of the best players in the Midwest Conference.”
Haskell is the only senior on the team and averaged 9 points and 3.7 assists last year.
Rounding out the Fire’s guard rotation is junior Abby Owens, sophomores Kristin McDonald and Sara Johnson, along with likely contributions from freshman Chantal Heckman.
“We definitely have an athletic team that is going to be able to compete this year,” Johnson, the Fire’s leading returning three-point shooter said. “We’ve been growing as a program and we aren’t going to settle this year.”
McDonald and Johnson were are the Fire’s primary three-point shooters this season, having averaged .474 and .419, respectively.
Knox’s front court will be anchored by 5’9” junior Krystyna Williams and 6’0” junior Kelly Ricketts. Ricketts was the team’s leading rebounder last season (5.2 rebounds per game).
As is the case in professional sports, team success often relies on the steady play of veterans. Knox knows that if they are to meet and exceed their expectations this season, veterans will need to play an integral role.
“We’re just trying to go into every practice with the intensity and effort that we would put forth in a game,” Mueller said about the team’s practices, which at times lacked energy.
“The upperclassmen are making sure that we do this as [well] as possible.”
The Prairie Fire will open their season at home on Monday, Nov. 15 against Cornell College at 7 p.m.