Track and Field held the Knox College Outdoor Open this past Saturday, hosting Division III to Division I teams. The men finished fifth of nine teams while the women finished sixth out of 10 teams.
Finishing fifth and sixth may seem little proof of any improvement made by the team, but during the same event in 2015 the men finished sixth and the women tenth out of 13 teams. The Outdoor Open being just the second meet of Track and Field’s outdoor season gives both teams plenty of time to continue on their upward trends, which began at the end of their indoor season.
Multiple times placed runners on the best performances in Knox history list, including freshman sprinter Val Varanese placing sixth in the 100 meter dash, tying for the seventh-best time in Knox history. Freshman mid-distance runner Zachary Barnes placed first in the 800 meter run, earning the ninth-best performance in Knox history, and senior captain Brennan McGlauchlen placed fourth in the men’s hammer throw, and the eighth-best throw in Knox history.
Some are looking at the new season as a clean slate, building off of the successes from indoor season and focusing on strengthening weaknesses. Junior Jessica Fritts is an example of this: Coming off of a career-low indoor season, she managed to begin outdoor with record throws, placing third in the women’s hammer throw Ñ her specialty Ñ and earning the second-best throw in Knox history with a 139’ 00”.
“One thing that I started doing was I created these little rituals,” Fritts said. “I would do the same exact thing every single time, like fasten my glove the same way, step into the ring the same way, always look out and see where I wanted to throw and then look back in, take a breath, and make sure I’m doing all the same things so that every single throw is the same. Then I can just relax and you go for it. Taking the pressure off of myself was a big part of it.”
Members of both the men and women’s team agree that hosting a meet gives a certain home-field advantage, and that the outdoor season tends to produce faster times and further throws.
“I’m used to outdoor track more. I never ran indoor track, so I’m hoping for faster times, and I have gotten faster times since we’ve gone to outdoor,” Barnes said. “I think there’s a lot of things that go into that Ñ the air inside, the amount of turning and mentally the distance, lap-wise.”
Along with a standard-sized outdoor track twice the size of Knox’s indoor track, which allows for less turns and therefore faster times, the track allows Knox a home advantage. This is especially true for throwers, as each track has slightly different throwing circles. While at home, they know exactly where their mark is and where they need to throw to produce certain scores.
Hosting has also allowed the team to become more of a cohesive unit, with sprinters able to cheer and support their distance counterparts when not running and vice versa, a scene that is not always present when the varying distances compete at different times of the day.
Runners feel, not unlike other Knox athletic teams, that they are turning over a new leaf in Knox Track and Field. Those on the team want to succeed and are closest to doing so now when compared to past seasons.
“I think we’re just hungry for it,” Fritts said. “We’ve never had this before. We’ve had very successful track teams, just the time that I’ve been at Knox I’ve never felt the team this strong before.”
Many factors play into the rising success of the team, but the drive to win and become better is attributed to stemming from Head Track and Field Coach Randy Overby. Acknowledging the talent his runners have, Overby has worked to hone certain aspects of each member’s running style, and pushes them slightly harder than previous coaches.
“He has a very technique-oriented coaching style,” Barnes said. “A lot of focus on technique as well as strength training, which I think a lot of people are not used to. For different people on the team there’s different things we work on. Some people have their chin up too high when they’re running, some people kick their legs around too much, other people their waist swings around, so his focus is always on fluid movement.”
The team, pleased with their progress, continues to push for faster times and personal records. Facing minor injury setbacks going into the Outdoor Open, the team was not at full strength or with all of its members competing. With impressive results despite certain runners, Barnes believes the team has more to offer as injuries heal and the team regains full strength.
Looking to build off of this season’s strong start, the Prairie Fire will compete on the road at the Lee Calhoun Memorial Invitational held Thursday, April 13 through Saturday.