Sometimes the box score does not tell the whole story. When milliseconds and millimeters decide point totals, this proviso rings especially true.
At last week’s Midwest Conference track and field championship, Knox’s men’s track and field team came in eighth place out of nine teams. The women’s team finished ninth.
On the men’s side, young athletes led the Prairie Fire. Freshman Gabe Moreno totaled eight of the team’s 19 points. On Friday, Moreno finished fifth in the 10k with a time of 33:33.27. The next day, despite fatigue and wet, windy weather, Moreno posted another fifth place finish, this time in the 5k.
“I was not expecting to come back and do so well in the 5k,” Moreno said. “Maybe the cross country runner came out in me in the wet conditions.”
Sophomore Sean Choate barely missed placing in the 5k and the 10k, finishing ninth in each event.
Sophomore Joe Puntoriero notched five points for Knox, scoring four with a fifth place finish in the 200 meter dash. Puntoriero added one more point with an eighth place finish in the long jump. Puntoriero’s mark of 21′ 7 1/4″ put him fifth all-time in Knox’s individual performance top ten.
The men’s 4×100 and 4×400 relay teams also placed for the Prairie Fire, totaling four points each with fifth place finishes.
In the field events, Knox had close calls. Freshman Weston Chenoweth missed qualifying for the javelin throw finals by only five feet. Freshman Devon Compton was tenth in the prelims for discus throw, just missing the finals.
The women’s team was led by seniors Claire Knowlton and Chloe Bohm. Knowlton notched Knox’s only individual point of the day with an eighth place finish in the 100 meter dash. But in prelims, Knowlton qualified by only .01 seconds, holding off teammate junior Kristi Weller. Ninth-place finishes were not hard to come by for the Prairie Fire.
“We had a lot of those finishes,” Knowlton said. “We were on the cusp … we just need to get over the hump in those events.”
Bohm, too, took a ninth place finish in the prelims of the 800 meter run, finishing just under two seconds behind the eighth place runner. But Bohm recovered, running the anchor leg in the 4×400 relay team that finished in fifth, notching four points for Knox.
The women’s team finished only one point behind eighth place Lawrence University, making Knox’s close losses all the more painful.
“It was kind of an eye-opener, in terms of where the conference is in terms of talent,” Knowlton said. “It’s getting more and more competitive, so we just have to keep working on our times and distances. And I thought we had a ton of good times—some of us had the best times we’ve ever had. But those weren’t good enough for the conference.”
“I mean, we definitely had some good performances,” head coach Dan Zierfuss said. “We had some [personal records] across the board, so we were peaking at the right time. In some cases we were just a little short … but short is short, and we need to start getting those points.”
Though each team was disappointed in their finish, some felt their place did not fully speak to their performance.
“I felt like it was our best meet of the outdoor season,” Moreno said. “I don’t think the score really showed how well we performed.”
For Knowlton, the last-place finish was a less-than-satisfying capstone for a solid career.
“I guess it’s the end of 11 years—I’m not a track athlete anymore. On a personal note, it’s ‘what now?’ You have your career and now you have to find something else to do. It’s tough. We had a meeting yesterday and [Zierfuss] was talking about next year, and I found myself being really excited, thinking ‘yeah this is going to be great!’ but then I realized, ‘oh yeah, that’s not me.’ I’m really sad about not being a part of the team anymore.”
Despite a disappointing end to the conference season, Knowlton and the team’s other seniors were instrumental in changing the culture of the program.
“I just feel like the whole team atmosphere is better,” Knowlton said. “I feel like we’re a better team, and we’ve really learned how to support one another.”
“This team is so different from the team I took over four years ago,” Zierfuss said. “We’ve changed in philosophy, time and commitment. This is a college track and field program now […] Our goal has changed. We want to go to conference and get medals.”
“I know we’re still finishing in the bottom of the conference,” senior co-captain Bill Schaefer said. “But we’ve built the foundation that will allow this team to get to the next level.”