BRADFORD – When Karmen Knepp showed up to school Tuesday on crutches and with her foot in a walking boot, Bradford cross country coach Bob Daugherty said he almost had a heart attack.
It was just four days before Knepp was scheduled to run in the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division III girls state cross country meet, and Daugherty thought his record-setting runner was out of commission. However, it was just a prank Knepp decided to pull on her coach, and she actually wasn’t hurt.
“That was not very nice at all,” Daugherty said as Knepp laughed about her joke.
While he wasn’t amused by the crutches and boot, Daugherty is glad that Knepp is relaxed and having fun as she gets ready to run at the state meet, which is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at National Trail Raceway in Hebron.
“I think we’re kind of enjoying the we’ve made it to state, we’ll get there and we’ll compete but let’s also enjoy the fact that we’ve made it to state,” Daugherty said. “It’s a big deal. It’s a big deal for Bradford. We don’t have too many people make it to that next level, and for her to do it it’s a big deal.”
In 15 years of coaching, Knepp is the first athlete Daugherty has had make it to state. And while he’s not certain, he also thinks she’s the first Bradford runner to ever make the state cross country meet.
Knepp said she’s really excited to make it to this level and have the opportunity to race against the top runners from across Ohio. To get to this point, Knepp had to learn that her exceptional talent alone wasn’t enough.
Four weeks ago at Coldwater’s Lion Invitational Knepp raced against some of the top runners in the area. The race didn’t go nearly as well as she had hoped, and she finished in 22nd place with a time of 20:53.18.
“I got passed by like a ton of people,” the Bradford freshman said.
While the result was discouraging, it also was a motivator for Knepp.
“I was thinking I could run like them,” she said. “Like a lot of those girls had talked about already going to state and everything. That’s when I was thinking about me possibly going to state.”
Knepp realized that she had to improve her pacing, she said, and she started working harder.
“I was really bad at that because I hadn’t been going to the practices where we were working on pacing, and I started going after that,” she said.
Following that meet, Knepp ran a personal best of 19:14 in her next race and finished fourth overall in the Cross County Conference’s league meet.
“She kind of came from nowhere,” Daugherty said. “At conference I don’t think a lot of people were expecting her to run that fast, and now I’m pretty sure that there’s some coaches telling their athletes to look out for her.”
Knepp followed up her great performance at the CCC meet with a third place finish at the OHSAA district meet and a seventh place finish at the OHSAA regional meet.
Going into the state meet will be a whole new experience, however.
“The last couple races she knew who she had to run with,” Daugherty said. “She was up there with (Covington’s) Carly Shell. She knew she was where it’s at. With this many people, hopefully we’re in a box close to somebody that she knows she can run with that will help her set her pace. She’s got to, I think, realistically she’s not going to be in the front of the pack.”
Knepp’s personal best of 19:14 is 28th fastest in the state this year. The last couple weeks she’s been closer to 19:45, and Daugherty said he’d like to see her finish somewhere in between that range.
“I want to try to get more near my PR than what I’ve been racing just because it’s probably going to be my last meet of the season so I want to do my best,” Knepp said.
No matter how Knepp does on Saturday, she and her coach both view this as a great learning experience.
“This is a learning experience I think for everybody involved to see what it is,” Daugherty said. “As a freshman we can kind of take that as the learning experience, and hopefully this is the first of four years that we get to do this and by the time she’s a senior … you know, expect her to be running at the front of the pack by then.”
Knepp has the talent as evidenced by her breaking Bradford’s program record in her very first cross country race. She’s broken her own record three times since then and is figuring out what it will take to continue progressing as a runner.
“I think she’s starting to see that she has some real talent,” Daugherty said. “And hopefully we can use that a little bit more in the offseason in between track and cross country and get her to that next level. Me and my assistant coach, Rob Grilliot, both of us don’t believe we’ve seen the best of what she can do yet. It’s a matter of getting that out of her, and she’ll get that through hard work. I think she’s starting to realize that she’s ready to put in that work to get to that next level.”