There are 25 underclassmen on the track and field roster of Knox College for the 2019-2020 season. Combine the youth with an entirely new coaching staff ÐÐ including a first-year head coach ÐÐ and you’re going to get some ups and downs. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and right now is about laying the foundation and doing things the right way.
This past weekend, the Prairie Fire competed in their first indoor competition of the season. The women’s finished sixth out of six teams, while the men’s team finished fifth. Though the team isn’t a finished product, there’s a reason for optimism given the inexperience of most of the athletes, including some of the returners reaching personal best in their respective events.
The new coaching staff includes head coach Evander Wells and assistant coaches Alice Lee and Adam Flyte, who have led the charge with helping the team get the technical aspects of the sport.
Lydia Mitchell, sophomore, is a dual-sport athlete. She hails from Maryville, Missouri and picked up track last year as a way to stay in shape. Being a part of a team is what keeps her motivated to work out and go to the gym during soccer’s off-season. Mitchell’s performance at Dubuque demonstrated she’s also a tremendous runner.
Mitchell placed second in the women’s 400m with a time of 62.31. That time also allowed her to reach 6th on Knox’s all-time leaderboards.
With an entirely new coaching staff, they’re trying to install the basics and introduce the right techniques to each athlete. The emphasis on technique paid off for Mitchell.
“I didn’t know this, but a lot of people run with their legs kind of back. You’re supposed to have your toes up, and you’re not supposed to be on your heels,” Mitchell said.
“I am 100% guilty of always running on my heels, and so [Coach Wells] has been trying to get us to keep our legs in front of us so that we move forward faster instead of letting our legs drag behind us and slow us down,” Mitchell said.
Working on technique is vital for Charles Broomfield. The sophomore from Colorado Springs competed in the weight throw and shot put. For Broomfield, the training in the offseason helped him have a successful weekend.
The perception of throwing is very different from its reality. Many people think it’s all about upper-body strength, but strength doesn’t play as big of a role as you think. The legs play more of an integral part than the upper body.
“The people with the best form are going to be the most successful people. You know, I don’t have the same strength as some of the guys I’m competing against. I’m still working on that (É) My form is what allows me to compete with some of (the) stronger guys,” Broomfield said.
The sophomore’s hip flexibility matters tremendously, as does good coaching. Broomfield cited Lee as one of his reasons for success.
Lee graduated from Knox College last year, so she’s familiar with the program. They are having her serve as the throws coach was a great addition to the staff. She’s a very strong power-lifter, so the athletes know she’s pulling them in the right direction. Her attitude is also what’s endearing to Broomfield and the team.
“Last year, (Lee) was just a great leader on the team. (She’s) always just a positive influence in terms of attitude as well as just a fun person to be around. Coming into the coaching role, it’s worked out even better,” Broomfield said.
Having that faith that your coaches are putting you in the best position to succeed is essential for any team. Trust is an underlying trait that plays a big part in success at Knox.
“I think all of (the coaches) working together, and all of us getting to do things together is making practice a lot of fun. Knowing that we all have faith in our coaches ÐÐ that makes practice fun,” Mitchell said.
For Wells, it was the first competition as head coach. It was one of those surreal experiences that you don’t fully experience until after.
“Once you kind of get in and things are going, you don’t feel any different (É) Then after you have that thought (you’re) like, ‘Alright, yeah, this was the first meet as a head coach’,” Wells said.
Wells has to take care of travel arrangements, injuries, meals and all of the other tasks that go unnoticed before the meet. Though he has stressed his desire for more team success this season, Wells views many athletes reaching their personal best as an accomplishment in itself.
Broomfield had a successful first competition, but he still saw areas that he needs to improve on.
“If you can’t get low, you can’t get balanced, you’re not going to be able to lift with that kind of power. That’s usually the biggest problem in a lot of my throws. I’m just not in the right position to let my strength do the talking for me,” Broomfield said.
Wells sees the most significant improvement to come from the little things that’ll come with more experience. “We’re just working on making sure that once you’re in a big meeting environment, they have to have some independence amongst themselves, making sure everyone’s warming up properly, checking in for their events,” Wells said.
Warming up is a thing that will come as the athletes compete more. It’s not an indictment on the athletes; it’s just about being young. Understanding comes as your body gets older, and things like stretching become more important to prevent injury.
“It’s warm up. Done. ‘What do I do next, coach?’ I’m like, ‘That should have taken a little bit longer.’ (É) (The athletes will) start to get better habits with time,” Wells said.
With a roster full of young talent, there’s no question that this team can improve. With the right coaching in place and with the impressive individual athletes on the roster being able to learn from them, there’s a ton of potential for this team.