By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In collegiate athletics, when an athlete goes from competing against the best in her conference to the best in the country, it is not surprising for the jump in competition to strike a chord with the athlete.
That is why junior cross country runner Rebekka Simko, who had the opportunity
to compete in the Olympic Trials in the 800 meters this past summer, knew her
experience competing against the best the United States had to offer would be a
life changing one.
"It was a phenomenal experience," said Simko. "Just being there around world class athletes is unbelievable."
Although she had just set Penn State's school record in the 800 with a 2:03.09 during the outdoor track season, the Ohio native believes the trials completely increased her motivation after she placed 27th in the field.
"It put everything in a different perspective," said Simko. "Running against the best gives you completely new goals and aspirations."
The experience not only revamped her desire to train for cross country season, but also her anticipation for it to begin.
"It really gave my summer training a boost," said Simko. "I couldn't wait for the first cross country meet."
Although Simko had grown accustomed to training for 800-meter races during track season, she maintained that the transition to the 6,000-meter for cross country has gone smoother than some would think.
"The training isn't too much different," said Simko. "There's just more miles and tempo runs instead of speed work."
Now more than two weeks into the season, Simko has wasted no time displaying how much her training has paid off, winning the Nittany Lion's first meet, and finishing fourth in their second.
"She's been doing great," said head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan. "She stepped into cross country this fall with a whole new confidence and level of ability."
Sullivan believes that Simko's performance last year during the outdoor track season, when she earned Second Team All-American Honors, has paved the way for her success at cross country.
"She really caught her stride last spring during the outdoor season," said Sullivan. "It's all really come together for her."
Simko agreed with her coach's sentiment, and stated that she expected this type of performance from herself.
"I have high expectations for myself," said Simko. "I hoping that I would do well."
Another role that Simko has embraced along with being a star runner is the role of team leader.
"I feel like my attitude coming in everyday has been better," said Simko. "It's been really fun helping everyone out."
Sullivan said that she expected Simko to be one of the team's leaders, and that she could not be more proud of her for stepping up.
"I told her to be herself and that kids would follow her because she's just a tremendous young person," said Sullivan.
One of the qualities that Sullivan believes makes Simko such a special leader and teammate is her sense of humor.
"She's just a wonderful girl but she's really funny," said Sullivan. "She has a real honest sense of humor."
Simko, for her part, has credited Sullivan's coaching as one of the biggest factors of her improvement and success.
"I have complete faith in Coach Sullivan," said Simko. "I give her all the credit and I trust everything she tells me to do."
Along with the guidance of Coach Sullivan, Simko also credits her teammates for the camaraderie that they have provided her.
"Training with these girls everyday has had an unbelievable impact on me," said Simko. "We all have different strengths and weaknesses so pulling for each other makes a huge difference."
Now two meets into the schedule, Simko stressed how excited she is about the rest of the season.
"I can't wait for the meets to start kicking up in intensity," said Simko. "It should be really fun."
Already having been named Big Ten Athlete of the Week for her opening meet performance, Simko believes that both her and teammates can achieve loftier goals this season if they keep up their dedication.
"As a team we want to win the Big Ten and get to Nationals," said Simko. "Individually, I'd like to be All Big Ten and All Region."
Simko and her teammates return to competition on Sept 29, when they race at Louisville at the Greater Louisville Classic.