In their final home meet before hosting the Midwest Conference Championship, the Prairie Fire indoor track and field team wanted to just keep getting better — and they did.
Facing stiff competition from Truman State, Beloit College, Western Illinois University, Rockford College and Millikin University, the Prairie Fire continued their steady progression and improvement. While earlier in the season the team would often be led by one or two record-breaking performances, these days seemingly everyone is performing at a high level.
“This weekend’s meet, for me, was our best overall team performance,” said co-head coach Dan Zierfuss. “We didn’t have just one or two standouts, we really performed well as a group. Relay teams, individual, everything was clicking.”
Sophomore Kevin Box performed well in the men’s 3k, posting a time of 9:33.
“On the distance side of things, Box was definitely a bright spot for us,” said co-head coach Patrick Irwin. “He was great.”
As has been the case throughout the season, the team’s freshmen competed at a high level. Lizzy Warner finished fifth in the women’s 400 meter dash, while Sara Brown took third in the women’s 200. On the men’s side, Joseph Puntoriero finished first in the men’s 400. Jake Swider-Rogers placed fifth in the men’s 200.
“The first-years have been great for us,” Irwin said. “They came in with a great attitude, and it’s really been a joy having them around and watching them develop.”
Junior and women’s captain Claire Knowlton agreed. “They’ve been really strong and competitive, and having them pushing us in practice has been really great for the team,” she said.
After a mid-season swell, senior Adam Kent got back on track this past weekend. The defending conference champion in the weight throw, Kent took first in the event, finishing eight feet ahead of second place.
“Adam was really pleased to break out like that,” Zierfuss said. “He knows he’s capable of so much more than what he’s shown this season, so it was great to see him throwing so well.”
The senior from Lake Stevens, Wash. also took fifth in the shot put.
In addition to the team’s progress, for some it’s just a matter of getting healthy. Bill Schaefer, a junior from Grand Junction, Colo., ran hurdles for the first time in over a year. Schaefer, the men’s captain, had been hampered by back troubles. After posting a time of 8.74 in the preliminary round, Schaefer ran the 55-meter hurdles in 8.59 seconds.
“I was really happy with what I ran,” Schaefer said. “My career best is 8.50, so coming out after so long and posting an 8.59 felt great. I’m just trying to tune-up next weekend and get better before conference.”
The team will travel to Dubuque, Iowa for the University of Dubuque Invitational on Saturday before returning home for the Midwest Conference Championships on Feb. 26 and 27. Needless to say, the Prairie Fire feels good about competing at home.
“No one knows the facility better than we do,” Zierfuss said. “We practice on it everyday. The field athletes know it, the sprinters and distance runners know the curves. Hopefully we can use that to our advantage.”
As for what the team needs to do before conference, both Schaefer and Knowlton agreed: work on the fundamentals.
“We’ve just got to stay rested and healthy for the next two weeks,” Schaefer said. “We need to work on the technical things, clean up exchanges on the relays, get our timing down. That will drop our times.”
“As a team, we really need to stay mentally tough,” Knowlton said. “Close to the end of term, it’s easy to wear down. But we’ve got to stay in it. We know we’re really close. We just need to stay tough.”