Following a successful indoor season, the Prairie Fire outdoor track and field team faced lofty expectations this season.
At the Midwest Conference championship last weekend at Illinois College, they proved they could handle the pressure.
Led by sophomores Kevin Box and Emma Swanson, the men’s and women’s teams finished eighth and sixth respectively.
Box took the bronze medal in the men’s steeplechase event.
“I was seeded fourth and I knew I wanted to come home with a medal,” Box said. “Somehow I had my personal best by 28 seconds and came in at 9:45, only a second and a half behind silver. If I would’ve had another 50 meters I may have caught him, but that’s just how it goes.”
Box also tallied three points in the 1500-meter run, finishing in sixth place. Also on the men’s side, senior Adam Kent took fifth in both the shot put and the hammer throw. Freshman Joe Puntoriero finished seventh in the 400-meter dash, and was one spot away from qualifying in the 400. Though he was disappointed, Puntoriero knew his rookie season was a success.
“I ran hard races in not ideal conditions and have to remember that I’m only a freshman runner,” Puntoriero said. “Making top ten is a huge accomplishment for an athlete in my position.
Co-head coach Dan Zierfuss knew the men’s team was disappointed with an overall finish of eighth place, but acknowledged the difficulties the team faced not only at conference but throughout the season.
“It was tough to swallow,” Zierfuss said, “but we were hurt, and I really believe we did the best we could with what was there.”
The women’s team, however, was not so disappointed. Coming in sixth place, the women’s team posted their best finish since 1996.
“It was an outstanding performance,” Zierfuss said. “We moved up two spots from last season and scored 19 more points than last year—a big improvement.”
The highlight of the weekend for the women’s team came in the 400-meter hurdles, as Swanson finished just outside the top spot after qualifying number one overall the day before.
“I had been training to run the 400 [-meter] hurdles since the start of the indoor season,” Swanson said. “Last season was a disappointment, I didn’t even make the finals and only ran 70 seconds. I was pleased to have all that work pay hefty dividends.”
Swanson also competed in the 100-meter hurdles, finishing less than half a second off the qualifying time. Junior Claire Knowlton also narrowly missed the finals in the 100 hurdles, but finished fourth in the 100-meter dash.
Senior Christina Davis shattered the school record in the hammer throw, coming in fifth place overall.
After a successful season, Zierfuss reflected on the future of Prairie Fire track and field.
“We’re losing good seniors on both teams: Christina Davis and Mary Purrazzo for the women and Ryan Maniscalco, Adam Kent, and David Footle on the men’s side,” he said. “But we’ve got a great core on both teams and we know we’ve got nowhere to go but up.”
The men’s team will also return junior Bill Schaefer, who missed the entire outdoor season with an injury.
“Bill would have scored us points in three events,” Zierfuss said. “But I really believe he can come back next year and be a top three finisher in the conference in hurdles.”
As for what each team needs to do to move into the upper echelon, it’s all a matter of depth.
“Monmouth is scoring 200 points because they have so many people in each event,” Box said. “We could have a conference champion, but if Monmouth has second, third and fourth, they bring in twice as many points.”
Fortunately, each team is counting on another large, athletic recruiting class to build on this year’s success. When asked about the goals for the future, the answers were consistent across the board.
“We can’t be satisfied with what we have,” Puntoriero said. “We can have so much more. I want to win, and I want us to hoist that conference championship trophy before I graduate.”