Third-year coach Patrick Irwin knows he is in for a challenge to start his teams’ seasons. His men’s and women’s cross country teams will truly hit the ground running, facing off against teams of Division I caliber in the first two meets of the season.
“We’ll see three Division I schools with Western, Bradley, and Northern Illinois, along with Augustana, a strong DIII, and Lincoln, a very good JuCo [at the WIU Invite Sept. 4],” Irwin said. “Then our biggest challenge after that will probably be the Illinois State meet on September 18. Two strong meets back-to-back to get the season started.”
And with such strong competition, the losses the teams suffered due to graduation last season loom even bigger — most notably, that of Karen Brophy, Knox’s do-everything track icon.
“Losing Karen hurts,” Irwin said, “but sophomore Brenna DeGan and junior Tanya Novotnak should fill some of the gap and be our top two runners. And a couple of freshmen, Anna Novikova and Zoey Kudla, look pretty strong.”
While the women return just one senior in Mary Purrazzo, the men see the same lack of experience in their own squad. Ryan Maniscalco is the lone senior for the men.
“I look at Ryan as one of my top runners, and sophomore Kevin Box as another,” said Irwin.
“I think the biggest surprise outside the freshmen has been Kevin. It’s clear to me he put in a lot of work over the summer and came into the season in great shape, so I expect some big things from him,” said Irwin.
Although the overall number of cross country runners is down from last year, Irwin feels optimistic that the program can improve upon its finish last year and compete with men’s favorite Grinnell and women’s favorite Monmouth.
The Fire open their season on Sept. 4 in Macomb, Ill.