The Prairie Fire needed a Homecoming victory to keep their playoff hopes alive. Having dropped their last two conference contests, Knox dropped from having a commanding conference lead to being on the fringe of playoff contention. As such, the atmosphere felt like a playoff game as alumni and fans poured into Jorge Prats Field.
Senior Max Gatyas said of the Homecoming environment, “As a team we were delighted to have the opportunity to play such a talented team in front of our fans, friends and alumni. Homecoming is always a great weekend because you get to spend time with so many friends that you haven’t seen for a long time. But to play such a talented team in Lake Forest and get a result made it a very special day.”
The Prairie Fire got the game started off with a bang as sophomore Nathaniel Logie netted his conference-leading 16th goal just over 12 minutes into the contest. The crowd remained raucous for the rest of the half, as the Prairie Fire played physical soccer and junior Sean Dockrell recorded all of his four saves in the contest, shutting out the Foresters for the first 45 minutes.
Three minutes into the second half, Lake Forest senior Jordan Hartman knocked in his team-high 13th goal. From then on, the contest became increasingly chippy as Knox committed 26 fouls over the course of the match to Lake Forest’s 13. Fittingly, however, Gatyas, who was honored before the game along with fellow senior Dillon Kostka, knocked in a goal on a penalty kick at the 60th minute to put the Prairie Fire up for the rest of the game.
The victory for Knox was the first against Lake Forest since 1999, ruining the Foresters’ perfect 6-0 MWC record on the year. Further, the win earned Knox three conference points to put them in a three-way tie with St. Norbert and Carroll.
“The team chemistry has been great. We respect each other as players and peers,” said Gatyas on the Prairie Fire’s success. “We demand accountability on the field, and off the field we are an incredibly close group. Any success we’ve found this year is almost entirely due to our willingness to work for each other. We take tremendous pride in the bonds that we’ve formed, and that comes through on the field.”
The chemistry shows on the field, as all it seems to take is subtle eye contact between a midfielder and an attacker before a perfectly placed lob lands at the feet of a streaking forward. They have what any good team has: unspoken communication and anticipation before a defense has time to react.
When asked about what Knox needed to do to ride the momentum and maintain the chemistry they’ve created, sophomore Charlie Harned said, “We can’t allow ourselves to get caught up in the momentum. We have a team saying that we play ‘Knox ball’; statistically, we’re one of the best teams in Knox soccer history, but that won’t stick around unless we keep playing the way we have been.”
Whatever ‘Knox ball’ is, it’s clearly working, as the team has already garnered the best record in men’s soccer history, along with being the leaders in numerous statistical categories. Knox’s final three games come on the road against Carroll, Beloit and Monmouth consecutively, and to earn a spot in the MWC tournament they’ll need to garner at least two victories.
Said Gatyas of the remainder of the season, “Going forward, we will focus on what has brought us success thus far. We will practice hard and prepare for each game individually. We will put emphasis on defensive intensity and offensive effectiveness. But as a program and as a team, we still have a lot to prove.”