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The Knox Student

Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student

Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student

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‘She holds herself to this unreachable standard’: How Lydia Mitchell’s determination led to a season for the ages

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The Knox star forward made an immediate impact upon arriving on campus. In the 2021 season, the senior elevated her game to a level rarely seen in the Midwest Conference.

Lydia Mitchell had one of the best individual seasons in Knox’s history in 2021. The senior forward for the women’s soccer team led the Midwest Conference in goals (16), points (36), and game-winning goals (9). One goal, in particular, stood out to Mitchell. 

The goal that Mitchell scored was the lone point in a non-conference home game against Hope College. The Flying Dutchmen had a corner kick on Knox’s side of the field. The ball bounced around before it finally rolled to Mitchell. The Missouri native took the ball and sprinted down the field, aggressively looking to break the scoreless tie. Mitchell passed around a defender and released a shot at the keeper, but the keeper saved it, initially. 

 “I kept going and eventually tapped it into the goal,” Mitchell said about her favorite goal of the season. “Had I had the opportunity my freshman or sophomore year, after the keeper saved it, I would have given up. The hard work from over the summer encouraged me to be persistent.”

Since stepping foot on Knox’s campus, Mitchell has impressed. Her strong work ethic played a role in taking her from being the 2018 Newcomer of the Year, into the All-Region player she is today.

“It’s been amazing what she has been able to do over the four years,” head coach Taylor Houck said. “It’s not like she came from nowhere. To go from rookie of the year to another all-conference performance the second year, to still be dominating, it’s unbelievable.”

Mitchell’s movements tended to be monotonous and that tendency made it easier for defenders to mark her because they knew where she was going. She played confined instead of free. She credits her teammate Alyx Farris and Houck for helping her become a more intellectual player.

“In soccer, it’s freedom. It’s how clever can you be?” Houck said. “A lot of the time we spent together, it wasn’t as much about mapping out her options, it was more about deprogramming her from thinking ‘if the ball goes here, I always have to go here.'”

Mitchell works tirelessly in her pursuit of greatness. Being consumed by the drive to be the best can cause the joy of the game to be lost. 

“Lydia takes herself very seriously; that’s something that everyone loves about her,” Farris said. “She holds herself to this unreachable standard, and I just helped her have fun with it.”

The work that launched her record-breaking season started in the summer when Mitchell, members of the men’s soccer team and the Galesburg community would come together to work out. Mitchell, who is the Midwest Conference Offensive Player of the Year, worked on navigating tight spaces and accuracy. 

Mitchell felt more confident in her abilities this season than ever. She was unflappable no matter what defense the opposing team threw at her. 

“Lydia would never use this word, but swagger. She was oozing it everywhere she went,” Houck said. “There’s a game where she scores a goal against Lake Forest. On the film, I notice she scores, and she’s swooping, doing her cheer when she spots Rob, the photographer, doubles back to him, cheers in his camera, and runs off. You deserve to double back, and you deserve to have that moment.”

It took time for Mitchell to get to that level of comfort on the field. It took time for her not to fret over every mistake but to put it behind her and have a next play mentality. 

“I’m a lot more confident, not just in my play, but embracing my mistakes and knowing that I will make a mistake,” Mitchell said. “During my freshman and sophomore years, I was always worried and anxious about my play.”

Mitchell’s maturation process wasn’t limited to on the field. As the team captain for the last two years, she’s had to learn how to lead and use her voice. 

“She leads with the heart, positive and negative, but it’s all coming from the heart,” Houck said. “Everything she does is for the people around her. As a young leader, she was challenged with how do I cope with those emotions, how do I lead, how do I be everything for everyone?”

To know Mitchell is to know a caring, passionate person. One teammate walked behind her and embraced Mitchell with a hug, showcasing how well-liked she is.  Mitchell’s leadership isn’t tied solely to her connection with her teammates, but also through her actions.

Houck pointed out one moment from preseason that showcased Mitchell’s endurance and work ethic. Each year the team does the beep test, an exercise where athletes run 20 meters back and forth from a marked track. “She ran the beep test until the audio track finished,” Houck said. “We give them three misses, and she used one. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.”

“We as coaches knew she was going to be fit,” Houck added. “It shows she pushes beyond her limits because we think she is limitless. I think for the first years and last year’s first years, just seeing her in action and legitimizing all of the awards in that one run, I think changed their view of her. Not that they had a bad view of her, but it was like ‘holy cow, we’re living with a legend.'”

Even though Mitchell is adored, she’s still a ruthless competitor on the field. You don’t accumulate the statistics and accolades that she has collected over her four years without having that fire inside of you to be the best. A fire that isn’t extinguished during practice, even when her then first-year coach steps in and plays with the team. 

“In 2019, I jumped in at practice,” Houck recalled. “Lydia disagreed with some of my coaching points leading up to that. I took off dribbling past her, and she laid me out. She flattened me, so much so that trainer Erica Witkowski thought I was injured. I mean, c’mon, she laid her coach out [during] her first fall with her. What do you think her competitive nature is like?”

Mitchell’s multi-layered personality is what makes her great. She desires to be great. The compassion she shows endears her to her teammates and coaches, but she also has the self-confidence to know her capabilities when she steps on the field.

But, the difference this season with Mitchell stems from the sense of finality knowing this would be her last season suiting up for Knox. Understanding that allowed for a liberating experience. 

“My first year, I was just so scared,” Mitchell said. “I think every first-year player is so scared to make a mistake that they inevitably make a bunch of mistakes when they play. And now, as a senior, nothing matters except having fun. I play soccer because I enjoy it. It shouldn’t be a job. It should be something that I genuinely love to do.” 

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