By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Four years ago, they were starry-eyed freshmen, honored to be apart of a team that won the Big Ten Championships.
Now as seniors, Brooklyne Ridder and Natalie Bower want nothing more than to
lead the Penn State women's cross country team to that same goal in their final
"Winning the Big Ten Championships would be the perfect ending to our four years on the cross country team," said Ridder. "I couldn't imagine a better ending."
Bower couldn't have agreed more with her teammate's sentiments.
"It would be a dream come true," said Bower. "We would love to have that goal achieved."
With the Nittany Lions ranked 13th nationally and only trailing Michigan (seventh) in terms of Big Ten schools, the two senior captains know that their goal is attainable, and are extremely proud of their team's performance up to this point in the season.
"It's been really exciting to perform well and to run strong," said Ridder. "It's definitely giving us a lot of confidence."
After having both qualified for the NCAA Championships their first three years at Penn State, Ridder and Bower have continued to give strong individual performances this season, having both finished in the Nittany Lion's top five in every race they have run this year.
They maintained that they have welcomed the pressure of having the team count on them, since they have extremely high expectations of themselves, as well.
"Natalie and I have had good performances since freshmen year, so we knew expectations were going to be high," said Ridder. "We expect a lot out of ourselves too though."
Not only have they embraced the pressure of being among the team's top performers, but also the pressure of leading the team as captains.
"Being a captain you automatically put some pressure on yourself," said Bower. "But it's all part of being a senior on the team."
Ridder added that being a captain is easier knowing that she has both Bower and fellow senior captain Lindsey Graybill to count on.
"The three of us work together really well," said Ridder. "I know that the two of them always have my back."
Both Ridder and Bower also stated that the underclassmen on the team have made their job easier with their strong performances.
"The younger girls stepping it up have been a great help," said Ridder. "Being able to have a team that runs together as a pack has been amazing."
Bower was quick to add that the entire team's work ethic during the course of the season has also been a source of pride.
"We've been working really hard in both our workouts and our daily runs," said Bower. "Not just our mileage but also our strength and our core."
Along with their teammates, Ridder and Bower both made sure to credit head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan with their continued success.
"Every year she sets the expectations a little bit higher," said Ridder. "She's been great to work with and I love having her as a coach."
Bower also praised Alford-Sullivan on her ability to get the best out of her and her teammates.
"She realizes we need to work hard to achieve what we want to do," said Bower. "I really appreciate her working with me."
With their final season winding down, both girls have been trying to put their cross country careers in perspective.
"It feels like a few days ago that we were freshmen," said Bower. "It shows you got to make it count while it lasts."
Ridder shared her teammate's opinion on the subject.
"I look back and I feel like I was just starting," said Ridder. "It's definitely hitting me now that I have three races left in my senior year."
Whether or not this season ends in a Big Ten title, Ridder and Bower both cannot believe their time with the Penn State women's cross country team is coming to an end.
"It's sad that I only have three races left," said Ridder. "It would be great to end this season on a good note."
Bower agreed, and stated she will miss the camaraderie between her teammates.
"It's something special to have this many girls work together so well," said Bower. "It'll be sad to move on."
The Nittany Lions will compete at the Big Ten Championships on Oct 28 at Michigan State University.