The Prairie Fire track and field teams kicked off the season at the University of Chicago last Saturday. It was a good showing for both teams in the first meet of the year, with the men finishing third out of six and the women fourth out of five.
There can be downsides of having a young team, but in this case the upside is tremendous.
“We do have an extremely talented group of first-years and newcomers on the team within each event group,” said senior Alice Lee. “They put up great numbers in our first meet of the season and are already ranked highly in the conference. I have no doubt that they will continue to improve and push us upperclassmen to have the best season we can.”
Fellow first-year Austin Rauch also sees the potential in the team.
“We’ve got some solid first-years coming in. I think since we’re so young, we’ve got a lot to build on in these next few years. I think we’ve got a solid foundation now,” Rauch said.
Knox was led by a trio of strong performances from first-years Derrick Jackson, Kira Koonce, and Rauch. Jackson and Koonce both placed first in the men’s and women’s 60m, respectively. In his first college meet, Jackson ran a 7.05, the second fastest time in Knox history and the top time in the Midwest Conference this season. Koonce’s 7.96 is also Knox’s second-best time.
For Koonce, running is the best part about meets.
“[The best part] for me, when I’m at track meets, is actually really running, or getting ready for the race because it’s like a different feeling, the adrenaline and everything, knowing that everything you worked on in the week is going to get shown and put out,” said Koonce.
Rauch garnered some attention from the conference with his high jump performance. He cleared 1.96 meters to win the meet. Not only does his jump pace the conference so far, it’s also the second-best in Knox history and good for
Sophomores Danica Dosmann (12:59.99) and McKenzie Meadows (15:45.13) both finished top five in the women’s 3000m. First-year Rachel Corzine earned another top five finish for the Prairie Fire with 14.04 time in the women’s 60m hurdles.
The throwing squad showed well overall. Freshman Charles Broomfield’s heave of 13.76m was good for third, and his toss of 12.15m in the weight throw earned him second. He was happy with his performance but thinks he can do better.
“While a good starting point, I fully expect to improve over this season and be a serious factor for our team in future meets,” Broomfield said.
He’s excited to compete on a bigger stage and enjoys preparing for meets.
“I’m very excited to finally compete at a national level, instead of limited to a conference or state. My eyes are always on qualifying for nationals and setting new school records,” Broomfield said.
Last year the team was led by coach Randy Overby, who played a significant role in getting the large group of newcomers to campus.
His decision to leave the program earlier this year caught some of the team off-guard. For Koonce, he was a big reason why she came to Knox.
“He was most of the reason why I transferred here, but stuff happens,” she said. “I need to continue to do what I need to do to be better. I can’t depend on one person to make myself better, but Coach K [current coach Britton Koestler] is stepping up and taking the role seriously.”
Koestler was brought into the program in September as the associate head coach of cross country and track and field. Before Knox, he was the head men’s and women’s cross country coach and assistant track coach at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas.
The success of the team in Chicago attests to the job Koestler has done.
“Coach Koestler has been put in a very difficult position ever since Coach O left. Not only does he have to focus on his primary event group, the distance and mid-distance runners, he also has to work with the sprinters and jumpers as well as manage the logistics of being a head coach,” Lee said. “He is working very hard to manage each event group and we appreciate his efforts.”
Rauch said dealing with preseason workouts was already tough enough without Overby’s sudden resignation. Despite this, he thinks Koestler is doing the best he can.
“I think Coach K handles the team pretty well. He takes good care of us,” Rauch said.
Koestler has had some help in the form of Jacob Paul ’18. Paul is in his first year assisting the Prairie Fire throwers. The success of the throwing squad has a lot to do with the two of them.
“Despite the low numbers of the team as a whole, this is the largest throws squad I’ve been a part of throughout my time at Knox. We have a total of 10 throwers and half of them are newcomers. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this throws squad my senior year, especially with all the sudden changes to the team this season,” she said. “Even though this is an individual sport, it is so difficult to push yourself without the support of your teammates.”
Adversity is part of any team’s journey, and it’s clear the path hasn’t been easy so far. However, optimism remains high and the team looks to continue performing at a high level.
“I feel that most of our team’s strengths come from everybody who does what they need to do and comes every day. No particular group or events. Everybody who shows the effort and puts out the enthusiasm every day in practice is a strength of the team,” Koonce said.
“The most important part is that every one of us has a shared purpose of wanting to improve ourselves while also supporting our fellow thrower,” said Lee.
As a senior seeing all the growth of the newcomers, Lee can’t help but think about her time as a member of the track team over the past four years.
“Track and field has been a large part of my life ever since high school and it’s such a bittersweet feeling knowing that this will be my final season,” she said. “My main goal this season is to cherish every second I get to spend in the ring doing something I love with the people I love. Of course, I have certain numbers I want to hit and I will stop at nothing to achieve those goals no matter what it takes.”
Shortly after the meet, the Midwest Conference announced the Performers of the Week for week one. Knox swept the award on the men’s side as Jackson and Rauch both had outstanding meets. Koonce was named the first Women’s Track Performer of the Week of the season after her strong performance.
The Prairie Fire will travel to Illinois Wesleyan University on Jan. 26.