Three is a hot number this week in Knox Athletics, with Football winning three seasonal games for the first time since 2008 and Men’s Soccer on the verge of their third consecutive MWC Tournament, a first since Baseball in 95’.
Both teams attribute their success largely to their ability to add skilled freshmen to their core returners, strengthening and diversifying play while still playing as one cohesive unit.
It is no surprise Men’s Soccer finds themselves on top, competing for a MWC Tournament spot a third year in a row, but it may be a surprise they haven’t already clinched it.
Easily sweeping conference last season, the team is finding it more challenging to stay on top. New Head Coach Tyler Sheikh may be a factor in a change in results. However, Sheikh attributes these closer calls to an increase in pressure this season due to last season’s success and this season’s high quality of conference competitors.
“I think some of our biggest struggles have been trying to fight off the pressures. We’ve set goals for ourselves that are extremely lofty,” Sheikh said. “We’re not sneaking up on anyone. In fact, we’re disliked.”
Members of the team can attest to this change when viewed by conference competitors. Without underdog advantage and adjusting to a new coach, the team still finds itself in a rhythm.
“A large part of our success has been the players we have been able to acquire over the years,” senior Will McGowan said. “Even though we have a team that is very diverse in terms of style of soccer played, we have been able to collectively buy into one style. This one style, which our coaches over the years have developed for us, is something that has largely led to our success specifically on the DIII platform.”
The conference appears more competitive this season, with only Carroll University securing a spot in the Conference Tournament leading up to the last matches of the season. With stats this close, the conference has seen upsets skewing the general ranking all season. With more upsets, it’s easy to see why there is no clear frontrunner going into the MWC tournament.
Being an underdog has its advantages, as Men’s Soccer learned now that they no longer are surprising teams with their success. Football, following in Men’s Soccer’s wake, is rising in this year’s conference, currently 3-4, and taking teams by surprise. Though small as the team is, 49 total compared to an ideal 75-85, each player is aware of what they must bring to the game.
“We’ve got a good core group that has worked really hard to put themselves in this sort of position,” Head Football Coach Damon Tomeo said. “Combined with another good recruiting class, the freshman have come in and kind of gone all in, jumped in with everything and competed right away.”
If Football recognizes the similarities between its current season and the Men’s Soccer 2013 season, being an underdog is a huge advantage. The team faces Illinois College Saturday, and then face them on the road, which is another obstacle the team must face, being 2-2 for away games. IC is slightly above Knox in conference stats: 2-1 versus Knox at 1-2. Looking to continue the streak, Football must shut down IC’s active offense.
“They throw the ball all over the place,” Tomeo said. “They’re one of the highest-powered offenses in the conference and they can score points in a hurry. We’re going to have to move the ball consistently to give us a chance.”
With Football looking to leave their mark on conference this season, Men’s Soccer is looking to move past conference.
With the unfortunate loss to Monmouth last Saturday, Men’s Soccer must beat Carroll in order to secure a tournament spot. If Knox makes the tournament, they will have the best record among the teams playing (2-1-0), and will most likely face Carroll, a team they have already beaten 3-0 this season.
“All we need to focus on is winning the next game,” McGowan said. “Not staying on top of conference or any of that. I think we have at times gotten caught up in all the hoopla. However, with the tournament right around the corner we are as focused as we have been all season and we are ready to show our dominance no matter where we are on the table.”
Both teams are looking to finish the season strong, gaining another win under their belts before tournament in Soccer’s case, and Monmouth in Football’s.