Both the men’s and women’s soccer teams are in the midst of seasons to remember. The women’s soccer team clinched conference this past weekend, and the men’s soccer team is on track to secure the regular-season conference championship.
The women’s team has a conference record of 7-0-1 and an overall record of 12-4-2. The record shows the resiliency, fight, and talent of the women’s team. They have the second-lowest roster total in the Midwest Conference. With only 19 players on the roster, Knox has seven fewer players than last year, which was around the average size for a Soccer team.
“This season is a lot different than in past seasons; our team is very small. We have  players in total, which is crazy to think when there are 11 players on the field at once. A normal team would be around 20-25,” senior goalkeeper Katy Coseglia said.
The lack of roster depth did not stop the Prairie Fire from winning their fourth consecutive regular-season conference championship. Being the reigning regular-season champion three times over creates a target on your back. It happens with all great sports teams like the Golden State Warriors, Real Madrid, New England Patriots and the New York Yankees. Every team plays harder when they are going against you.
“I’m going to remember how badly they want to beat us. Like it will be the worst team or the team with the worst record, and they will show up for a game, and it makes it more fun to beat them,” junior Alyx Farris said.
They have handled every team’s best shot pretty well so far. Since the game against Ripon College, which resulted in a tie, the women’s team has gone undefeated in conference play. In that span, they’ve shutout the opposing teams five times and have scored two or more goals against five teams, including a 7-0 drubbing against Lawrence University.
Soccer is one of the ultimate team sports in America. In basketball, one person can have a significant influence over the game and in baseball the offensive side of the game is mostly individual. Soccer requires all players to be on the same page, and that camaraderie they’ve built has helped them succeed this season.
The defenders for Coseglia have helped her this season. Coseglia has had a strong season due to her great play this year and because of her defenders.
“I guess that was pretty special: Annie [Peterson], Brooklyn [Deming], Deb [Bonales], Taryn [Elsner], all of them played amazing that week, and I couldn’t have gotten the Midwest Conference Performer of the Week without them,” Coseglia said.
Coseglia has the lowest goals-against average in the Midwest Conference, fourth in save percentage, and first in saves per game. The defense and goalie work hand-in-hand to prevent goals. It’s the job of the defense to limit the number of shots that get funneled into the goalie, and it’s the goalie’s job to prevent goals from going in the net.
Farris has taken on a larger role this year. Last year she played behind a senior, and now that the senior has graduated she has had to step up, and her teammates have made that transition easier.
“I think I have really supportive teammates who helped me realize my strengths [É] in my vision of the field. I think my teammates just help me play to my strengths and they, they trust me to do what I have to do,” Farris said.
Farris has five goals and 12 points, according to the Knox website. Her five goals lead the team, and the 12 points have her tied for the team lead.
With one game left in the regular season, the Prairie Fire are looking towards the conference tournament. Hosting the tournament has a lot of advantages for Knox. You get to sleep in your own bed, have your own fans and you don’t have to make a trip to another school. For Farris, it’s also a chance to play on what she believes is “the best field in the conference.”
“We have the best field in the conference, and the biggest field in the conference, which I think helps. The way that we play, we like to spread teams out and teams cannot handle us on our own field. I think it’s huge,” Farris said.
On the other side, the men’s team is 7-1 in the conference, but they still need one more win to clinch conference. They are currently tied with Lake Forest College for first place, but if they tie with Lake Forest, then the Prairie Fire will host the tournament because they own their tiebreaker.
The men’s team has been training to endure a long season since pre-season started. The start of their schedule was tough as they were on the road for the first 14 games of the season, which included a trip to Kentucky to face 15th ranked Centre College. That, combined with the conditioning, set the tone for a successful season.
Junior Michal Pavlik believes that the tactical side and the conditioning have played a significant part in their successful season.
“Well, Brian [O’Connor], prepared us pretty well. Did a lot of running to make sure we were fit enough to endure the long season because we always say ‘by the end of the season no one is 100% healthy’,” Pavlik said.
The coaches also put a lot of film work into the practice schedule.
“[Head Coach] O’Connor or [Assistant Coach] Rodrigo Carvalho will have a film session for us breaking down the opponents, how they set up with their formations, how they like to play or where they like to move the ball. We work on what we saw in the video, whether it’s different defensive formations or attacking set plays or different plays that we have in moving the ball,” Pavlik said.
The tactical side helps on the defensive side, which senior Nick Janulis believes is what separates Knox from the other teams in the conference.
“We’ve won a lot of games because we’ve defended well, and we’ve played incredibly hard,” Janulis said.
During conference play, Knox is first in goals allowed per game at .33. It’s by far the lowest amount of goals allowed, which shows the dedication to defense.
In addition to being a striker for the men’s soccer program, Janulis is also captain. One of the athletes he looks up to isn’t a soccer player, but also not a surprising choice.
“I’m from the suburbs of Chicago, so of course, I’ve got to talk about Michael Jordan. He was, he was a great leader just because of his mentality. He was one of those guys who not only was a very big presence in the locker room or anything, he on the court, you could tell he got caught. He got his teammates to do what they needed to do. And I think that is a role as a captain that I’ve tried to take more is that off the field management,” Janulis said.
Janulis couldn’t contain his excitement while he thought about the next two weeks, the last two weeks, of his collegiate career.
“Both teams are incredibly focused on winning the Midwest Conference Tournament. I’m really, really excited going into the game. Cornell this weekend it’s going to be a cold one. Hopefully, there’s no snow on the ground,” Janulis said with a chuckle.
“And with this one, we can clinch the conference tournament. That’s really our goal right now. And after that, go into the conference tournament. I think we’re ready to go,” said Janulis.