By Zach Reagan, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With the indoor season in the books, Penn State track and field kicks off its outdoor season this weekend.
The opening outdoor meets give Gondak and his staff an opportunity to see where the team stands and what to build on as they move along towards championship time. It will be an opportunity to see how the men's and women's teams stack up against solid track and field programs. Gondak has a strong contingent of returning athletes from last year's outdoor season. Penn State returns six 2015 NCAA outdoor qualifiers, three 2015 outdoor All-Americans, and a core group of strong veteran contributors.
"It's neat to watch the team compete for the first time," said head coach John Gondak.
The Nittany Lions will travel across country to Tempe, Arizona to compete Friday and Saturday in the Pac-12 vs. Big Ten Challenge hosted by Arizona State. Penn State is one of the four schools representing the Big Ten Conference in a competition against four schools representing the Pac-12 Conference. Conference versus conference scoring should make the meet unique as Penn State looks to display pride for the Big Ten.
The schedule of events varies a bit for the outdoor segment of the track and field season from the indoor segment. Instead of 17 events during a typical indoor meet it changes to 21 for outdoor meets. On the track, the dimensions of an outdoor track doubles to 400m after months of training on a 200m indoor track.
Additional outdoor specific events play into the hands of the Nittany Lions. Javelin throw, the steeplechase, the 100m, the 4x100m relays, and 10,000m are intriguing events to watch this weekend as athletes compete in them for the first time this year in actual competition
"I'm excited to see different events," said Gondak.
Gondak noted the Nittany Lions have six quality women javelin throwers who can compete well at the conference championship level. Each of those athletes have been training during the indoor season because there's no javelin event in indoor competition. Leader of the women's javelin group is senior multiple-time All-American Lauren Kenney (State College, Pa.). Kenney missed last outdoor season due to injury but is ready to go for the Nittany Lions after months of training.
Senior Tori Gerlach (Perkasie, Pa.) returns to compete in her signature steeplechase event. Gerlach earned a silver medal finish in last year's Big Ten Outdoor Championships.
Veteran distance runner Robby Creese (Mount Airy, Md.) and jumper Brian Leap (Bellwood, Pa.) give the Nittany Lions more depth in the outdoor season after competing unattached during the indoor season due to no indoor eligibility remaining.
Younger athletes will be important for the Nittany Lions as well. Sophomore All-Big Ten cross country athlete Jillian Hunsberger (Pittsburgh, Pa.) is returning after missing the indoor season due to injury.
In the sprinting events, freshman Dan Chisena (Exton, Pa.), last year's PIAA Class AAA Outdoor 100-meter, 200-meter and 4x100-meter relay state champion lace up the spikes alongside fellow newcomer Anton Porter (Bronx, N.Y.).
For more on Nittany Lion track & field, log onto www.GoPSUsports.com or follow the team on Twitter @PennStateTFXC.