WILLIMANTIC, Conn. -- Ask a coach to describe their consummate student-athlete and you'd get a response along the lines of commited, hard-working, engaged, unselfish, and devoted to team success, their studies and their future.
The coach would, in essence, be describing Haley Knox, who has embodied all of those characteristics as a four-year member of the cross country, indoor track and outdoor track programs who also found time to assemble a near-perfect grade-point average over four years.
"Giving 110 percent is something that Haley does in every aspect of her life," notes Knox' head cross country and track & field coach, Kathy Manizza. "Haley is an absolute pleasure to be around, she is a terrific teammate, and she will always go out of her way to help someone in need."
A Bristol native who majored in mathematics as a member of the honors program, Knox capped a remarkable athletic and academic career this year with a slew of honors and achievements which included nominations as the NCAA Woman-of the-Year and as a College Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) Academic All-America, recipient of the prestigious Henry Barnard Distinguished Student Award, the athletic department's Bonnie J. Edmondson Female SportsPerson-of-the-Year Award and Outstanding Scholar-Athlete Award, and inclusion into honor societies for mathematics and leadership.
A total of 12 students from the Connecticut's four state universities were selected as Barnard scholars in the 31st year of the award, with Knox one of two selected from Eastern. The Edmondson Award recognizes a senior student-athlete for teamwork, team spirit, dedication, community service and athletic excellence.
Knox's year-round dedication to running accounted for her development into one of the top performers in cross country the last two years, into an All-New England qualifier and New England Alliance champion in track & field, and program record-breaker in the indoor 1000 and outdoor 3000 meter steeplechase and 4x800 relay.
A vital member of the 2017 LEC women's cross country championship team, Knox improved from a 51st-place finish as a freshman in that race to Top 10 finishes as a junior (ninth) and senior captain (sixth).
At left: Earlier this year, Haley Knox became the seventh student-athlete to be presented the prestigious Henry Barnard Distinguished Student Award. With Knox are Eastern president Dr. Elsa Nunez and fellow winner Jacob Dayton.
"Haley was a fairly average runner when she arrived at Eastern," admits Manizza, "but she worked very hard both during the off season and in-season, and ended up as one of the best distance runners to ever attend Eastern."
The four-sport athlete at Bristol Central High chose softball – "softball was always my thing," she says -- over outdoor track in her first two years of high school. As a freshman in high school, Knox started at second base on the varsity team, then was moved to outfield as a sophomore in order to utilize her speed. A wrist injury that season, however, cemented her decision to make the move to the outdoor track team as a junior.
Out of high school, Knox considered a number of private colleges before settling upon Eastern. She says that her acceptance into the highly-selective honors program solidified her decision.
Knox says that she was not actively recruited to run in college ("I was not that good in high school," she says with a laugh), but that early in her Eastern running career she made a commitment to being the best that she could be.
"I ran a couple of days a week over the summer (prior to her freshman year), but I never went to the gym. I just did easy runs. I was just doing it to stay in shape," she recalls. "But then after my freshman year I wanted to be competitive. I wanted to be in the top seven of the (cross country) team. Sophomore year was my breakthrough year," she remembers. "I had a great track season, so coming out of my sophomore year, I knew I wanted to keep that up so I really hammered the mileage (in the summer). I put in the work. Going into my junior year, I started going to the gym every day, I ran more mileage, I cared a lot."
Academically, Knox has gotten straight A's since the start of her sophomore year. She served as president of the Math Club this year and has presented at state, regional, national and international conferences on topics such as Ordered Multiplicity Inverse Eigenvalue Problem on Six Vertices, submitted research projects to a number of publications, and as a junior, served as a teaching assistant to Dr. Megan Heenehan. She also provided private tutoring sessions for math majors this past year.
For her part, Knox points to Dr. Heenehan, assistant chair of the math department, and Dr. Garrett Dancik from computer science, as significant influences in her academic success. Both of those professors have served as mentors as she attempts to have her honors thesis published.
At right: Haley Knox (with head coach Kathy Manizza) and her family were recognized following the final home meet of her career this past April. (Photo by Mike Veschi)
A computer science minor with a concentration in writing, Knox this summer is headed to Florence, Italy for five weeks for a class in fiction before returning to begin a fulltime job beginning in August at Cigna, where she spent last summer interning as a software engineer.
"I don't think I can not give 100 percent to anything I do, which is a good and bad thing," Knox admits. "I'm a perfectionist, but it works most of the time."
A combination of personal characteristics, academic proficiency and athletic prowess which are hard to beat. In essence, the consummate student-athlete.