Last season, Knox’s men’s and women’s track and field teams took a step towards being conference powers. This year, head coach Dan Zierfuss is hoping for a leap.
“Practices have gone extremely well,” Zierfuss said, in his first year as the team’s sole head coach. “This is my fourth year here and this is the best we’ve looked this early in the season. People came back [from winter break] in shape.”
Last year, the men’s team posted their highest finish in the conference meet since 2000 and the women posted their highest finish since 2004. But the Prairie Fire are not satisfied—and coach Zierfuss expects them to climb the conference ladder.
“My goal for both teams this year is a top five finish,” Zierfuss said. “I know we can improve as a team and accomplish that.”
Like last year’s team, the Prairie Fire will be led by a mix of senior experience and youthful depth. As of press time, the women’s team has six freshmen and five sophomores on the roster. The men’s team has twelve and five, respectively. For Zierfuss, the influx of young talent has had a dramatic effect on the team’s prospects for success.
“We’ve got a good group of kids, and we’ve done a good job of getting the right people in here,” Zierfuss said.
The women’s team will be led by a pair of talented sprinters, junior Kristi Weller and sophomore Sara Brown. Weller and Brown formed half of the 4×200 team—along with senior Claire Knowlton and sophomore Lizzy Warner—that set a school record at last season’s conference championship. Junior Emma Swanson and senior Chloe Bohm also return for the Prairie Fire.
The men will be led by senior hurdler Bill Schaefer, who missed much of last season because of injuries. The men’s team will also feature sophomore Joe Puntoriero, who is coming off an impressive freshman season, as well as junior thrower Tony Sickley. The team will be led by youth, however, as Schaefer is the team’s lone senior.
The Prairie Fire will host the Knox Invitational this Saturday. Knox will be joined by Midwest Conference rival Monmouth and NAIA schools St. Ambrose, Ashford and Iowa Wesleyan. Zierfuss hopes the strong competition will only help his team.
“It’ll be very strong competition, very strong,” Zierfuss said. “But it’ll be nice to see where we match up against those schools.”
Zierfuss insists the Prairie Fire are ready to start the season. “Anytime you’re competing at home, you want to put on a good performance for the crowd. It’s time to get serious now.”
The Prairie Fire will compete every weekend until the Midwest Conference Indoor Championships, held February 25th and 26th at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. They will host another home meet, the Knox Open, on February 12th.
Events at this Saturday’s Knox Invitational will begin at 10 a.m. in the T. Fleming Fieldhouse.