Even though it was not an official conference match, the Knox College volleyball team’s four-set victory over Beloit at the Inferno Classic Tournament in Milwaukee, Wis. on Sept. 15 was their first triumph over a conference opponent since 2008.
Knox took out the Buccaneers despite dropping the first set 25-18. They won the final three sets 25-15, 25-20 and 26-24.
“Even though it wasn’t [an official] conference match, it’s really going to give the girls a lot of confidence going into the conference season,” first year head coach Shayla Chalker said.
The Prairie Fire were led by junior Kaylie Prince, who finished the tournament with 40 kills — 16 in the win over Beloit.
“[It] was a key step in the right direction, because not only did we beat a conference team that has always previously beat us in three [sets], we also all were able to see all of the little things coming together,” Prince said. “We just need to push even harder now that we know what success feels like.”
The win was the team’s first this season, and while the team is 1-10, Chalker believes there have been clear improvements from last season.
“We didn’t win very many sets last year,” she said. “Right now we’re competing, we’re taking sets. We need to take the small victories and go from there.”
Outside of their two victories Knox won a total of two sets last season. This year, the team has already taken five in addition to a win last weekend.
The improvements can be linked in part to team chemistry, highlighted by the mantra “Team Aussie” that the players have created. A native of Australia, Chalker was immediately embraced by the members of the team.
“We actually began calling ourselves that the minute we got done interviewing her,” Prince said. “We all just knew that she was the right person for the job.”
While jokes about wanting to become Australian citizens have been made, behind the light-heartedness lies a genuine appreciation of the players’ new coach.
“[Chalker] is the coach that you want to go above and beyond for because it is obvious how much she puts into our team,” Prince said. “She holds us to a very high standard and when we come up short, it hurts 10 times worse because we know we let her down.”
While the coach has been flattered by the players’ receptiveness, Chalker believes there has been a balance between hard work on the court and having fun off it.
“I do embrace [the mantra] but not too much,”Chalker said. “In practice, we take things seriously, but then at stuff like team dinners, there is always a reference to it. They took it and ran with it.”
But even if Chalker believes it might become subdued over time, Prince and many of the players think otherwise.
“I honestly don’t see it going anywhere,” Prince said.
This weekend the Prairie Fire will host the Knox College Invitational and compete in their first home games of the season.
Though volleyball teams typically play most of their season-opening tournaments on the road, this year the Prairie Fire have spent essentially the entire first month of the season away from Memorial Gymnasium.
While not playing at home has meant less fan support at games, Prince believes there were some positive aspects to the schedule.
“It did give us a chance to sort out various issues with only pressure from teammates and coaches rather than a huge crowd, which may have been good mentally for our freshmen,” she said.
Coach Chalker held a similar belief, claiming the team handled the situation well, but did mention “it would have been nice to have a couple homes leading up to this [weekend].”
Knox will play four games in the tournament beginning Friday, Sept. 21 when they take on William Penn University at 3 p.m. in Memorial Gymnasium.