The women’s volleyball team is beginning to wrap up their regular season with no opportunity to continue playing at the Midwestern Conference Championships. Their remaining game is against rival Monmouth College.
Sitting at 6-20 overall and 1-7 in the conference, the Prairie Fire have no chance at making the Midwestern Conference Championships, to be held Nov. 2 and 3.
Part of their struggles can be attributed to the graduation of a number of key players from last year’s team that finished 11-19. Without the depth in those positions and the lack of any seniors on this year’s team, the Prairie Fire were, in effect, eviscerated in most of their contests during this year’s rebuilding campaign.
Despite this, the team was not without success this year. They had an impressive three-set sweep of Beloit College at last weekend’s Homecoming contest, and an all-time dig record was set by sophomore Mady Ferris, an accomplishment that was made all the more impressive due to the fact that she was coming off of a surgery that had occurred earlier this year.
“This year was my seventh year playing volleyball and my second year playing at Knox,” Ferris said via email. “Setting the new record felt like such a reward, especially after coming back from a surgery at the beginning of this year. Although it is pretty much an individual goal I definitely couldn’t have done it without the support and trust that came from my teammates and coach allowing me to prove I could get the job done as their libero.”
Despite the team’s record, Ferris said she is more than happy with the amount of spirit she has seen exhibited by her teammates throughout it all, and has high hopes.
“I view this year as a building year because we have no seniors on our team. I see it as an opportunity to grow together and really improve for next season. Although it is a rebuilding and learning experience for us I am very pleased with how we have developed this far. We have improved a tremendous amount since the start of the season and I am really excited to see how much more we improve in next year’s season!”
Junior Maddie Byrne, who has been playing volleyball since her sixth grade year, and is in her third season at Knox, is currently playing right side hitter. She’s also played outside hitter and middle blocker during her time at Knox. Byrne also found much to be encouraged by this year, praising the mental toughness of her teammates.
“On the bright side, this season has helped us build our mental toughness and bonds with each other. We are such a young team and graduating no seniors, so we have a lot of potential in the future. I am happy to see that we improve every day, and each stressful moment only increases our team’s drive to be successful,” Byrne said in an email.
Like her teammates, freshman Katie Anderson is adamant that this year’s team is much more than the record that it has assembled. In her first year at Knox, she has been playing volleyball for over seven years. Although she started off as a setter, depending on their opponent, Anderson now plays either outside or middle.
“While our record may not show it, this year’s team is doing really well. We have showed so much growth throughout the season and we have so much to look forward to next year. I am very proud of our efforts and have truly enjoyed playing with these amazing women,” Anderson said.
Nor is it just the players who have been impressed with the can-do attitude of the team. Coach Ashley McDonough, who has been coaching the Prairie Fire through four years’ worth of campaigns, admires the ability of the team to work together to set and achieve goals.
“The theme they came up with is ‘If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far go together.’ They focused on re-establishing the culture of the program. The dynamic of the team was a lot different from the past couple of seasons, so I think they’ve done an excellent job setting themselves up for success in future seasons,” McDonough said in an email.
She also pointed out how much there is still to improve upon in coming years. “We need another strong recruiting class to plug some of the roster holes and add depth. The team struggled with injuries a lot this season and it made it really hard to practice full speed. Also, you should expect to see 5-7 new faces next season.”
The team faces Monmouth on Oct. 26 to close the regular season.