On Saturday, Prairie Fire opened play in the Midwest Conference (MWC) against the Carroll University Pioneers. Carroll, which has won four of the last five conference championships and was voted as the top team entering this season, proved to be too strong for Knox to handle, coming out on top 6-0.
Making her first start in net for the Fire in 2011 during the conference opener was sophomore Racheal Koene, the Midwest Conference’s saves leader a season ago. Bombarded by 33 shots from the Pioneers, Koene performed admirably and recorded 15 saves during her 71 minutes between the pipes. But despite her efforts the Pioneers found the back of net three times in the first 45 minutes of play, tallied three additional scores during the second half.
The match was shortened to 72:30 due to inclement weather, leaving Knox with just two shots on goal, both from the leg of junior forward Arielle Dorman.
Following the loss the Prairie Fire traveled to suburban Chicago to take on the Elmhurst College Blue Jays in a Sunday nonconference showdown. A “hurt and tired” squad, according to first-year head coach Melissa Joseph, battled a formidable 7-1 Elmhurst team in an 8-0 defeat that extended Knox’s scoreless streak to three games and overall slide to five games.
The Blue Jays struck early and often scoring four times in the first thirty minutes, two each of the feet of Heather De Moss and Morgan Geimer.
After the first half Koene replaced senior goalkeeper Emily Turner, who had returned to her normal starting position; while the latter half of play went slightly better for Knox, the Blue Jays still dominated, ultimately coming out on top 8-0.
In spite of the weekend’s disappointing results, Joseph continues to have a positive outlook concerning the Fire’s 2011 campaign lauding “the leadership that’s … on the team.” Joseph also did not make excuses for the Fire’s sluggish start to the 2011 season following the off-season loss of players, including 2010’s leading scorer senior Emma Swanson, who chose to compete in cross country.
“I teach my team to control what you can control. We decided not to dwell on it … [and] be the team we can be with what we have,” Joseph said. “Being new, I didn’t have any preconceived notions. It really wasn’t a concern for me.”
With only 15 players and three seniors on its roster, Knox typically features four freshmen in its starting eleven, including the team’s second-leading scorer: freshman Ella Peterson. Joseph hopes this “youth movement” extends beyond 2011.
“We don’t have a large squad … I’d like to have more freshmen even next year,” Joseph said. “Numbers can only help.”
The freshman phenom Peterson and Dorman have combined for 10 of the 13 goals that Knox has netted thus far in 2011, causing consternation among the Fire faithful that the offense is not diversified enough. However, Peterson and Dorman’s respective goal-scoring prowess is proof-positive that Joseph’s offensive strategy is functioning.
“Playing with them [Peterson and Dorman] up top … that’s our strategy,” Joseph said. “I do think with our midfielders and defense playing more directly, it’ll create more scoring opportunities,” Joseph said. “Those two [Peterson and Dorman] will actually put the ball in the back of the net. Everyone else creates the opportunities.”
“We just need to believe that we can do it … that we can be competitive in the conference,” Joseph said.
When Beloit College comes to Galesburg this Sunday, the Prairie Fire will be given an opportunity to prove that this weekend was a mere anomaly, and that the team can compete with the likes of any MWC squad.