A coach and his attitude brought star goalie Sean Dockrell, a native of Dublin, Ireland, to Knox College as a junior transfer student. Now, it’s keeping him here. The draw for an international student, Dockrell says, lays predominantly in the coaching. Before committing to Knox, Dockrell let head coach Matt Edwards know that he wanted to win something before graduation.
“Matt just has this winning attitude about him,” Dockrell said. “When I told him I wanted to leave college with something under my belt, all he said was, ‘Two years? We’ll win something in two years.’ He knows he’s going to win and that attitude has been infectious not only amongst international players but the whole team.”
In no small part due to that attitude, Prairie Fire men’s soccer has evolved into a team with a vital international component: boasting players from China, Ghana, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Nigeria, Japan and now Ireland, eight of the 22 players on the roster are international.
The will to win comes not only from the right mindset at a coaching level but also tenacity at the player level. Through his 15 plus years of soccer experience, Dockrell purports that Knox has the most intense training program he’s ever seen.
Edwards allows the team the freedom to work by themselves periodically, a challenge that is more than met.
“Matt puts a lot of faith in us. He has a phenomenal program lined up so that there’s no messing around whether he’s there or not. There’s no messing around; we know what we need to do to win, and there’s no hesitation to do it.”
Dockrell also maintains that another vital reason he chose Knox and why he’s found success at Knox is the trust that’s been instilled in him from day one. Edwards and the entire Prairie Fire squad trusted him by giving him the starting job without ever having seen him play, and that trust has only built upon itself since his arrival.
“The first couple of games, my back four on defense were afraid to pass the ball back to me because they had never had a keeper who knew how to handle the ball before. But once they realized I knew what I was doing and vice versa, we bonded and trusted each other almost immediately.”
Because of Dockrell’s nine shutouts on the year, the Midwest Conference has had to rewrite the record books. His impressive season has led to a school record in shutouts, has been good enough for second place all-time on the MWC shutouts list and has propelled the Prairie Fire to an 11-3 (6-3 MWC) record and their first playoff berth since 1988. But Dockrell is not a homegrown product, not even a Midwest guy.
Dockrell’s road to Galesburg has not been a short one, starting in Dublin and including stints in New York and California before settling in the Midwest. Soccer, however, has remained a constant all those years.
In the United Kingdom, soccer was less of a choice and more of a lifestyle.
“We play a really short season over here [at Knox],” Dockrell said. “Back home, we play from August to May, and then you play in a summer league until you start training in August again. Here, there’s a lot to compete with. American football season, baseball season, hockey. So we only play from August to November here in the States. Back home, every day, everything is soccer. And I think American athletes suffer a little as a result.”
Dockrell went to Cayuga Community College in New York and San Bernardino Community College in California for a year apiece but never felt as if he’d found the right place. “I started out in New York at a tiny school because they had an Irish coach, so I figured it’d be a good place to get going. But the town was boring and I just didn’t fit. So I moved to California, hoping for a change of pace and found the same thing. I didn’t want to settle though. I knew there was more to the American college dream I’d envisioned.”
And then, almost by blind luck, Dockrell found Knox. The other goalie at San Bernardino, then a freshman, was looking at Knox but couldn’t transfer yet. Dockrell took a look at the school and sent Edwards his information and his tapes, hoping Knox would be different than his first two attempts.
“I did my research on the school and I knew it was a good college in a small town, with a new head coach turning the entire soccer program around. It wasn’t hard to make the commitment looking at all the work Matt has put in. Since then I’ve loved every second of my experience here. The last two years of junior college I was just looking for more professionalism, both in the team and on the coaching staff. And that’s exactly what I’ve found at Knox.”
Despite the immediate success, Dockrell maintains that he hasn’t played nearly his best, nor that the number of shutouts is a representation of his personal success. He believes that his back four is as responsible, if not more so, for the success the Prairie Fire have found on the field.
“They’ve played phenomenally,” Dockrell said. “They have this intensity, almost desperation to not let any shots get through and it pushes us all to a higher level.”
With that, Dockrell believes Knox is primed for a run through regionals and the entire conference either this year or next. The games the Prairie Fire have lost, against Carroll or Illinois College for instance, have been games that could have gone either way; the gap between the success Knox has already had and playing still another level higher is extremely close, meaning just a little improvement can make the team a lot better.
“It’s just little things, really,” Dockrell said. “Polishing and making everything as sharp as can be. This is an immensely talented team that has a lot of potential to tap in to. It’s on us to get the most out of it.”
With arguably the best goalie in Knox history and the most prolific attack Knox has seen in years, Dockrell’s argument is not without merit. The Prairie Fire have one more game before the tournament, against Monmouth this Saturday. Monmouth, 4-12-1 (2-7 MWC) likely won’t be the kind of competition the Prairie Fire will face in the tournament, but rather primes the team to make one of the best playoff runs in Knox history.