The Knox Women’s Soccer team finished its regular season on a 10-game win streak following their lone tie of the year.
However, two years of successful regular season play has long not been a good enough ending for this team, setting their collective gaze on getting into NCAA tournament early on.
After two heart-wrenching games to vex their conference nemeses, the team achieved their goal. Though now a new goal lies ahead, and so far that goal appears to be taking advantage of this heightened level of competition.
Key players make up much of the starting lineup for the team, one of the biggest being goalkeeper and sophomore Sierra Daniger.
“Those of who returned remembered knocking Lake Forest on their home field last year, and we refused to let the same happen to us on our field,” Daniger said of what drove the team to the finals.
The women have kept to this mindset of home superiority; the team has not lost a home game in the last two seasons.
Daniger was injured this year, but has shown little stress about it and said that the team’s defense has been key to her success.
“At this point, I’m used to the pain, and just continue to train,” she said. “I saw girls throwing themselves in front of shots and making key tackles that kept me relatively action-free despite the other teams knowing something was up.”
The team allowed one goal to St. Norbert in their two conference playoff games, an unusual occurrence for a team that has been so defensively strong on the year.
As focus now shifts to round one of nationals, Daniger said the competition has risen even higher.
“This week is a matter of fighting to be one of the 24 who get to dress. We spoke Monday night to make sure everyone was on the same page, and now we train to make sure our best 24 are sharp,” she said.
Sophomore Jessica Peterson is among these key players that have been so integral to the team success, and has been patrolling the midfield this season.
“It felt completely different from last year. Last year we were just excited to be in the tournament, and we didn’t expect to go to the finals,” she said of the finals game against Grinnell.
She also said the pressure to succeed was more present this year.
“This year we felt a little more pressure from the fans, hosting the tournament and other factors, but despite it we were confident and ready to play,” Peterson said.
She described the team as emotional to say the least following the tightly contested match.
“I still can’t wrap my head around it. Looking back and being recruited by a team that didn’t win a single conference game to winning it all is unimaginable.”
Heading onto the biggest stage for Knox Soccer in recent memory, the bulk of leadership for the women’s team looks to remain with Coach Paul Lawrence, who is in his second year at Knox.
When asked what he said to his team going into the halftime of the conference championship game with a tie, Lawrence recalled saying, “I have never believed in a moment more than this where execution is key.”
Lawrence seemed quite confident that the preparation and work put in by his athletes during the week was all they needed to pull out the victory.
He made sure to note that halftime on Saturday was the least the team had ever spoken during a halftime.
“The captains demanded that little bit that they knew we needed before going back out there.”
The obvious change and advantage for the team this year was getting to host the tournament, according to Lawrence.
“[It was] a massive advantage, and not just in regards to the fans or the turnout, but considering that Knox Women’s soccer hasn’t lost a game on that field in two years helps a lot,” he said.
Coach Lawrence expressed unwavering confidence that the program will rack up more conference championships and NCAA appearances, but stressed the magnitude of the accomplishment that is an unbeaten season to his team.
“I don’t think there will ever be an undefeated season for Knox College Soccer again while they are alive. So, I just wanted them to soak that up and appreciate that,” he said.
Regardless of whether one is fulfilled yet or not, this weekend’s game at Wash U will be a testament to the continued progress of a blossoming conference power team, and perhaps an NCAA contender.