The track and field team has started their season by breaking multiple school records and getting three of their players named to the Midwest Conference Performer of the Week within the first three weeks of season. With a new and unexpected head coach, the team has been adapting well. Head Coach Britton Koestler was originally the head cross country coach, but was thrown into the fire when coach Randy Overton left the program unexpectedly. Koestler said it’s been a challenge, but seeing all of the records being broken means he’s doing something right.
“Well, it’s definitely very exciting for me. Coaching track is always a hit or miss, especially when you’re coming in right when a season started and trying to figure everybody out, make sure they have the right routines. I’m able to work on the things within that they need to work on and continue to stabilize the things that they are very good at,” Koestler said.
After the first meet of the season, the Phoenix Open, freshman Derrick Jackson was named as the men’s midwest conference performer of the week along with freshman Austin Rauch. Sophomore Takira Koonce was named the women’s Midwest Conference performer of the week. Jackson has been a great asset, running the second fastest time at Knox at the Phoenix Open. He ran a 7.05 in the 60-meter dash. This was also the top time in the conference this season. Jackson has been injured, but is excited to come back and continue his journey to nationals.
“[The coaching change] was unexpected because we love Coach O but at the same time things happen and you got to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Jackson said. “I’m ready to demolish the 60 but I have to get healthy. As long as I’m healthy, I’m going to keep breaking records. We’re on track to make it to [nationals] so that’s all we have to worry about.”
The coaching change has been tough on everyone. The athletes love Koestler as a person, but say it can be tough because he is a distance coach so he doesn’t understand what the sprinters need.
“He’s got like a different mindset than what some of the sprinters need. He doesn’t quite have as much expertise in jumps and sprints. It’s not like he’s a bad coach but he just doesn’t have the experience in specific areas,” Rauch said.
The NCAA Division III Indoor Track and Field Championships will be held on March 8-9 in Boston, Mass. Koestler said the team’s main focus right now is taking the right steps to get to nationals.
“There’s a select few that I can see potentially qualifying for Boston, which will be very exciting for us. We haven’t had a national qualifier since 1984,” Koestler said. “Hopefully we end up getting one to four athletes. I’m really hoping some of our throwers will come along as well. Everyone’s developing at the right pace so that means we’re looking pretty good right now.”
Rauch has already qualified for nationals, with a jump ranking him third in the nation and with his first initial jump of the season at 1.96m, he also climbed to first in the conference. After this most recent meet, Rauch cleared 2.08m and set the first-place record in school history. Right now, Rauch is focused on staying healthy for nationals and has a goal he’d like to achieve.
“I’m definitely going to be trying to compete for that national title, at least indoor. I don’t know how outdoor is going to go yet because we’re not there yet. We’re already on pace for maybe seven feet this year, that’s going to be my starting goal and I’m going to build off of that,” Rauch said.
A majority of the team has been struggling with injuries. Most of the athletes agree that the practice schedule is rigorous and it can be hard to heal when they practice six days a week and have meets on the seventh day. Koonce has been battling a back injury but despite this, was able to run a time good for 24th in the nation. Koonce believes injury prevention is important but no one knows you’re injured unless you speak up.
“You have to know yourself and your body. You have to communicate and let [someone] know you’re going to lay back this week. Decide if it’s important or not, if it’s just a season meet instead of conference,” Koonce said.
Koonce beat the all-time Knox record in the 200m with a time of 26.49 just this past weekend. If she improves her time a bit and manages to be in the top 14 nationally, she will qualify for nationals. As far as breaking the record, Koonce was surprised.
“I didn’t know the record, first off, so it was a surprise and they told me and it was very unexpected. I was just running like I usually do,” Koonce said.
The team has been setting new records every week so far. Koestler attributes a lot of these performances to pure talent.
“A lot of it is talent. We do have a lot of that on the scene. It’s just being able to unleash that talent with the type of workouts we’re doing. About 40 percent of it is talent-based, the other 60 percent is how you train and your mental status,” Koestler said.
For practice in the weeks following, the team will be focusing on performing their best since the season is about halfway done. Koestler says his long-term goal is just doing better as a whole than the team did last year.
“Since we are about mid-season for indoor, we’re looking to amp it up a little bit. Make sure we hit peak performance right now so that whenever we start to taper for the next three weeks, we see performances that are little bit higher, a little bit faster, for all the athletes,” Koestler said.
Qualifying for nationals would be a huge step in building the track and field program. The team will be competing at Illinois College on Feb. 2 at 10 a.m. to continue their quest for national qualifications.