Sports / The Prairie Fire / September 30, 2015

A force to be reckoned with

Knox has quite a few spectator sports that draw a mass following of fans. Knox Cross Country is not one of those sports. Unfortunately, I doubt many are familiar with the scoring of cross country meets, meaning their recent successes have gone virtually unnoticed. With the team in better shape this season, with a higher retention rate and with its top runners breaking Knox records, there are many reasons to pay attention to Cross Country. A mixture of increased motivation and new training tactics appear to be behind this season’s success.

The increase in practice is evident in the times put up by the team in their most recent meets. Sophomore Rebecca Katz set a new Knox record for the 6k at the Grinnell College Les Duke Invitational, putting up a time of 23:46, averaging just under six and a half minute miles. She attributes this season’s success to Head Coach Alex Moreno’s new summer workout schedule and changes within season training.

Women's Cross Country surpasses competitors in Beloit Olde English Classic ending up in second. (Courtesy of Peter Bailley/ Knox College Office of Communication)

Women’s Cross Country surpasses competitors in Beloit Olde English Classic ending up in second. (Courtesy of Peter Bailley/ Knox College Office of Communication)

“The summer daily workout plan is new and the weight training is new,” Katz said. “So I think it’s just small changes that are increasing the intensity of our program.”

Senior Brian Cole has surfaced as the men’s top runner, finishing first at the Beloit Olde English Classic. An impressive feat made more impressive when the number of competitors surpassed 30.

The meet held at Beloit was a high note for both the men’s and women’s teams as they both finished second overall behind Beloit, both with three of their top five runners in the top ten of the meet.

Cross country scoring is difficult to understand when first looking at the stats. In each race individual racers are timed; the top five fastest times for both the men and women are then added, the men running an 8k and the women running a 6k. The faster the time, the lower the number. Cumulative team numbers are calculated and compared. The goal is to have fast individuals, as well as a fast pack of five runners.

To increase the team’s general speed, Moreno has his runners go on more pack runs this season, meaning the team must stay together, learning the feeling of keeping up with other teammates. It seems to be working, according to Cole, who says that during meets certain members will naturally gravitate, running in a pack and creating more consistent times.

Unlike many other sports, cross country, or running in general, is highly self-motivated. If a runner is not enjoying the action of running they will simply not do as well. In comparison to other sports where players can “fake it till they make it”, cross country fosters a positive and encouraging environment that makes practice fun, allowing for runners to enjoy themselves, in turn producing better times.

Practices are set each week, with every member of the team doing the same workout as each works on personal times and improvements. It is an individual sport within a team sport, making cross country distinct. It is also this sense of community within the team that drives the individuals.

“You need to compete for a different reason,” Katz said. “When we compete against sometimes 20 teams at the same time, you don’t always get a win, because you’re still number six out of all the teams, which is sometimes good, but it doesn’t feel like it, so just caring about each other is how we create that sense of team during races.”

From an outsider’s perspective, the team appears tight-knit and laid back, giving off a fun and informal feel. Though not entirely inaccurate, with their preseason camping trips and supportive environment, teammates assure that there are strict rules set in place and enforced, keeping the sport from becoming too casual.

“Coach Moreno is much more distinct, he tells you exactly what the rules are,” Cole said. “We have a three-strike policy. If you’re more than 15 minutes late to practice then that’s a strike. And it’s two strikes if you miss a meet. If you’re [late, but less than] 15 minutes late, the whole team does ten push-ups for every minute you’re late.”

Despite such strict rules, their retention rate is one of the best in Knox athletics currently.

This retention is in part due to the fact Cross Country has been coached by Moreno since 2012, creating stability and consistency within the program. He began his first season as head coach with the current seniors, both growing, maturing and strengthening the sport together. This is visible when looking at the top five varsity runners, compiled of mainly upperclassmen.

Moreno treats his team with the utmost respect, and receives it in return. This mutual respect allows individuals the athletic freedom they need to further their success while also knowing exactly what is expected of them.

Looking forward, each member of the team has a goal time set, hoping to accomplish it in the next meet. For Cole it’s to run a race under 25 minutes; for Katz it’s 23:30. “You always want a goal that’s realistic, but is going to push you,” Katz said.

With both the men’s and women’s teams showing promise and no signs of slowing down there is plenty of incentive for Knox to keep its eye on Cross Country as they prepare for their next meet. Cross country has their next race on the road at the Coe College Lamb-Kohawk Invitational in Cedar Rapids, IA.

Sam Watkins

Tags:  Alex Moreno brian cole knox cross country rebecca katz

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