Knox Soccer had a heartbreaking weekend as both the men and women’s teams competed and lost in the conference tournament final. Both teams were able to dominate their first games of the tournament, which were in many ways more important to each respective team than the final.
Winning 2-1 against Lake Forest, the Knox Women’s Soccer team is the first conference team in two years to beat Lake Forest in a tournament match. Able to overpower such a prominent conference force is impressive enough, but doing it as a team predicted to finish second-to-last in conference is unheard of.
“The second the whistle blew, the upperclassmen were bawling and the underclassmen were so ecstatic that we finally beat our number one competitor,” freshman forward Jen Crary said. “I think we knew that that was the game that made up our whole entire season. That was the perfect game to have won.”
Knox tied Lake Forest during their seasonal game, the only team in the conference to take points away from the Foresters.
The Men’s defeat of Carroll in the first round of conference tournament proved important for another reason. Last season Knox swept conference, hosting the tournament and making it to the final against Carroll, which ended with heartbreak as a late goal cost Knox the game. Needless to say, there was more riding on the Carroll game, especially for the upperclassmen.
“It was their last time in the Midwest Conference, so all week it was like ‘push them out the door and don’t even let them say goodbye,” freshman goalkeeper Justin Dunn said. “We didn’t want to lose two years in a row, because Carroll is a postseason team, all they need is one opportunity.”
Knox was able to secure the win over a soon-departing Carroll despite their penalty kick in the last 10 seconds of play, skillfully saved by Dunn.
Neither team had much time to celebrate before gearing up for game two. With just 19 hours of rest between matches, fatigue and small injuries caused issues for players going into the final.
“We felt that the previous afternoon’s game had really taken its toll on our girls, physically,” Head Women’s Soccer coach Paul Lawrence said. “It was going to be difficult for our girls to keep that same energy through another difficult game. And if you look at the performance it kind of proved that way.”
Knox Women lost to Carroll in overtime. Lawrence explained the team’s goal to stay strong and hold off Carroll until a shootout, feeling his team, and specifically his goalkeeper, freshman Sierra Daniger, could finish victorious. Even with the Carroll loss, the team was able to complete a historic season.
“This was a building year, and for a building year we far exceeded anything anyone expected of us,” Daniger said.
With 29 freshmen and no graduating seniors, the team appears to have nowhere to go but up. Especially compared to other conference competitors such as St. Norbert, Lake Forest and Carroll, who will all be graduating impactful players, leaving possible weak points. Carroll, the only team to finish with a better record than Knox, will be leaving the conference, setting Knox up for success in future seasons.
The Men’s game proved to mirror the issues of the Women’s team. With St. Norbert’s turf field one of the largest in conference, and players forced to play at a faster pace, the team struggled with exhaustion. Even so, Head Men’s Coach Tyler Sheikh attributes Lake Forest’s edge to luck and capitalizing on opportunities.
“Often times we say mistakes in postseason play, like our moments of brilliance, will lead to something,” Sheikh said. “In two instances, two defensive mistakes lined up perfectly with their two moments of brilliance.”
The men lost in the final against Lake Forest 2-1. The seniors took the loss hard, as it closes their collegiate careers. According to freshman forward and second lead scorer Joe Dyer, it was not the seniors that took the loss hardest, but Sheikh. Dyer explained that the formation change Sheikh implemented, which strengthened the offense while weakening the midfield, possibly resulted in Lake Forest’s success.
Both teams, confident in their defense, are looking to recruit strong and creative forwards. Though the men will be graduating star center back senior Charles Edemba, Sheikh is confident in the players already stepping up to fill in. The men will also graduate their top scorer senior Nathaniel Logie, leaving a valuable position for the team open. With equal success in conference, recruiting talented players is becoming increasingly easy, and both coaches agree they would like to expand to recruiting nationwide.
Each team will push for a tournament win next year as they build on accomplishments made this season.