The year was hectic for Prairie Fire Athletics. Athletic director Daniella Irle completed her first full year at Knox, making some tough decisions in the athletic department. Losing several coaches throughout the course of the year either due to resignations or firings, Irle handled each and every program gracefully and made sure to bring in new coaches that fit the individual teams’ criteria.
Irle had to start making decisions early in the school year. With the head men’s socccer coach leaving over the summer and then the firing of head volleyball coach Ashley McDonough just after the volleyball season ending and the sudden exit of track coach Randy Overby, Irle had to make some quick hiring decisions. Then, with the announcement of head basketball coach Kevin Walden’s resignation, Irle had to make another staff change. Finding a new women’s soccer coach after Chris Haught-Thompson left, Irle acted fast. Hiring many new coaches and rebuilding the athletic department where she saw fit embodied that Division I mentality that Irle brought from UND. It will be exciting to see what other decisions Irle will make over the next few weeks, and to see what decisions Irle will face next year.
Despite any technical drama, many of our teams were still able to go far and see success. The men’s and women’s soccer teams saw success by winning the conference championships, repeating history. The track teams broke several records and hit many milestones, including sending a freshman to nationals.
Overall, athletics had an exciting year to build and grow. Here are some of the best moments and things you wouldn’t want to miss.
The men’s soccer team made it to the first round of the NCAA tournament after beating St. Norbert College 2-1 in the Midwest Conference Championship final. The men came up just short to Luther College in the NCAA Tournament with a final score of 1-0. Junior Nick Janulis was a top scorer for the Fire, with nine goals on the season and one assist. Janulis had a shooting percentage of .191 and 27 shots on goal. Janulis was also selected to the all-conference team after the season. For 2019, Janulis coming back for his senior season, he will be a threat on the offensive side of things. Senior goalkeeper Justin Dunn also had a memorable season. Dunn set the conference records for most shutouts, with 29 career shutouts, set during the Beloit College game on October 14, where the Fire won 1-0. Overall, the team is looking strong next year, returning the defensive player of the year and conference team pick, sophomore Alessandro Benelli. (Katy Coseglia/TKS)
The women’s basketball team had a successful season, with an overall record of 13-12. Coming off of the Midwest Conference tournament loss last season, the women had unfinished business. Unfortunately, the women fell by one game, barely missing the Midwest Conference tournament this year, losing to Ripon College 57-60. Junior Jarrelyn McCall was the top scorer for the Fire, accumulating 366 points and averaging 14.6 points per game. McCall was the only player from the Fire named to the all-conference team. Senior Karlie Thorn was the next leading scorer, with 278 points on the season and 11.1 points per game. The Fire will return nine players and attempt once again to make it to the conference tournament. (Katy Coseglia/TKS)
In indoor track this year, the track teams performed well and broke various records. Freshman Takira Koonce was a standout breaking records, and should be a contributor for next year. Koonce broke the 60m dash record, setting the number one time for Knox at 7.82 seconds, set at the Midwest Conference meet at Monmouth on February 22. Koonce also set the first place 200m dash record (25.69 seconds). Senior Alice Lee set the school record for the shot put at the Midwest Conference indoor meet as well with a first place throw of 37 feet and 8 inches. Freshman Derrick Jackson set the indoor record for the 60m dash, with a time of 6.98 seconds, again at the MWC meet. Jackson also set the fourth place record for the 200m dash at Wartburg College on February 16 with a time of 22.72 seconds. Freshman Austin Rauch was a standout for the Fire. Besides appearing at Nationals in Boston and earning a sixth place finish there, Rauch set the first place school record with a jump height of 6 feet and 9.75 inches. This was set at the Illinois Wesleyan meet on Jan. 26. Rauch also earned All-American status at nationals, with a jump of 2.03m. Overall, all of the records broken proved how hard the indoor track squad worked.
The women’s soccer team won another Midwest Conference Championship, defeating St. Norbert 2-1 in the final. The Fire lost 0-1 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against St.Thomas. With new coach Taylor Houck coming in after Chris Haught-Thompson left, it will be interesting to see how the women fare next season. Junior Jenna Milligan was named to the all-conference team, along with freshman Lydia Mitchell. Mitchell scored eight goals on the season and had five assists. Mitchell’s shooting percentage was .101 with 41 shots on goal. Milligan was a leading defender for the Fire, only allowing 18 goals and a goals-against average of .90. The women will return 15 players, with new recruits on the horizon. (Katy Coseglia/TKS)
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Athletic director Daniella Irle speaks during the women in sports brunch winter term. Irle has shown her professional abilities this year with the difficult decisions she’s had to make throughout the course of the year. (Katy Coseglia/TKS)