New coach for Prairie Fire women

by John Ring

The womens basketball program at Knox College hasn't exactly been a consistent winner over the years.

Started in 1974, the all-time winningest coach -- Bill Hurckes-- won a grand total of 62 games from 1986-1990. The longest tenured coach was Jane Stangl (1990-1997) and her teams won a total of 56 games while losing 75.

And the Prairie Fire have never won the Midwest Conference since the start of Division play in 1983.

Nichole Leibold hopes to turns things around. Leibold was named as the new Fire coach just a few weeks ago.

Believe it or not, she's seen worse programs.

Leibold resurrected a basketball program at Mount Senario College (Ladysmith, Wisc.) that had been discontinued for two years. Her team posted a 1-23 record their first year.

''It was really tough,'' said Leibold. ''I got hired late in the process. I wasn't able to recruit anybody. I actually posted signs around campus to get some players to come out. There were no facilities. We had to play our games in a high school gym.''

Leibold kept plugging away and posted a 41-86 record the next four years. The main problem she faced was a constant battle of numbers.

''Near the end, I had three or four outstanding players and a few role players but that was about it. I couldn't go more than seven or eight deep and that hurt because of the style of play that I like.''

That specific style is running and pressing.

''That's all I've ever known,'' said Leibold, who started at point guard for Northern Michigan University for three years before graduating in 1994. ''I like to play a fast-paced game, both on offense and defense. I like to put pressure on the other team. Here at Knox, I can get the players to make that work.''

''I met with the entire team after my interview and they're excited about the change. They're looking forward to the season.''

Knox Athletic Director Dan Calandro said there were some specific things that stood out about Leibold that led to her hiring.

''''We liked her personality. We felt like she was a good match for us,'' said Calandro. ''The other thing was her experience at Mount Senario would be good for her here. That college has an enrollment of 500 so it's smaller than us but we heard positive things about her there. Her resources were limited but she built the program up.''

Originally a native of Benson, Wisc., ''a little village of about 800 people,'' said Leibold, the new Knox coach had never been in Galesburg until the day of her interview for the position.

''I love Galesburg,'' she said. ''It's a neat town. People are very nice here, not just on the Knox campus, but everywhere in town. I feel comfortable here.''

Leibold, just 30 years old, said she has both short and long term goals for the Prairie Fire.

''One of the short term goals I have is for this team to bond together. They're also going to have to adjust and learn a new offense and new defense. But more than that, I want these kids to make a commitment to make this team one that can move up in the standings of the conference. I want us to compete with every team that we play on the court. We have great facilities here at Knox as well -- and that's going to help us.''

Leibold is getting settled already. She's bought a house, got her office in order and is anxious for the season to start.

''I'm sure that you know more about our returning players than I do,'' Nichole said, ''but I hope to watch some videos of some of their games before we practice. A change always brings excitement to a team, I just want to build on that.''

Calandro doesn't really care about the style of play Leibold and the Fire employ.

''I just would like for her to create a positive environment for our young women here at Knox. Winning would be nice but whatever style she uses isn't as important to us as her philosophy. We want our student-athletes to participate in a program they can feel proud of.''

Despite her limited time in Galesburg and Knox College, Coach Nichole Leibold is already aware of the intense rivalry between Knox and Monmouth College. ''It didn't take long for me to find that out,'' said the Fire coach. ''Rivalries are a healthy thing.''

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online August 15, 2001

Back to The Zephyr