The Knox College Prairie Fire women’s soccer team has a fresh new face for their program who’s looking to turn things around. Coach Paul Lawrence, who is from Bournemouth, England, is looking to not only become an adequate coach but rebuild the women’s program into something they’ve never been before.
“In 2015, I truly believe that we’ll be able to compete in the conference tournament because the caliber of players that I currently speak to, who are very interested in Knox, are at a much much higher level than Knox College has ever had before or really recruited. If we are able to get players of that level, you will truly be able to see how fast things can turn around.”
Lawrence, who was previously an assistant coach at Northwood University and Alma College, comes from programs where he found success in varying ways. After reaching the conference tournament, bringing in the largest recruiting class and helping the women’s team achieve the highest GPA on Northwood’s campus as an assistant coach, Lawrence knew it was time to step into a head coaching position.
“In both [seasons at Northwood] we reached the conference tournament and had the largest recruiting class and the most successful record in program history while I was there. At that point I determined that I wanted to step out on my own and become a head coach, and I started looking for opportunities.”
“While Knox has a great reputation academically, the women’s team has the reputation for being probably the worst in the conference. So the idea of being able to come in and bring my own recruits and build a reputation back certainly excites me.”
Lawrence, however, has his work cut out for him. The women’s teams in the past four seasons have compiled a combined record of 19-51, winning just over 27 percent of their games; realistically, a successful soccer season for the women may be a full year away. Lawrence knows this and has not promised his players anything he can’t keep, saying, “All I really want is for us to be competitive in every game and be more disciplined and work harder so that we are able to hold our own in every game. I’ve made no promises to the girls about this year being a successful season, all I’m asking is for at least one year to change this thing around.”
Athletic Director Chad Eisele believes in Lawrence’s plan for his recruiting efforts and networking may help him tremendously. Eisele said, “I’d say the biggest impact Coach Lawrence will have is his ability to recruit and his connection with club teams around the Midwest. We have some very good players on our team already, but adding depth will only enhance our team’s chances of winning more matches.”
Those same connections also are apparent on the other side of the soccer program. Apparently, men’s soccer coach Matt Edwards grew up only 30 minutes away from Lawrence’s hometown of Bournemouth. Neither knew until a conversation after Lawrence had been brought onto staff. Coach Edwards also feels strongly about Lawrence as he believes that he “will re-energize the team and is working incredibly hard to get the team competing in the MWC.”
As it is vital to have the staff’s backing for any new coach, it is more important to have the backing of your players. Sophomore Sam Watkins believes that Lawrence can bring a new perspective to the program that is needed.
“[Lawrence] is an optimistic person, which we really needed in our new coach. He already has a good understanding of where we are as a team on and off the field, and is helping to strengthen us in both settings. He is looking ahead to build up our program, scouting recruits for the 2015 season as well as bringing current Knox students into the program.”
While it is great to have the backing that Lawrence does, it still will take more time to completely rebuild the women’s soccer program. Even with that being widely known, Lawrence still has his goals set on making the program as great as he can.
“I think that we need to have immediate impact in the short term and to be able to do that I need to cast a bigger net for recruiting. If we can do that, then Knox College women’s soccer will turn around completely.”