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Barbour Eager to Lead Penn State Athletics

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The 18th of August cannot come soon enough for Sandy Barbour.

Introduced as Penn State Director of Athletics on Saturday afternoon, Barbour is thrilled to begin her tenure as the leader of an athletic program that aspires to continue its long history of excellence on and off the field of play.

"When you spend a professional lifetime serving institutions and most importantly students, you dream about coming to a place like Penn State," Barbour said. "You dream about the opportunity to lead a program like Penn State athletics. Why? Because it represents the opportunity to have it all: Athletic excellence, academic achievement, community engagement and fiscal responsibility. So thank you, Eric [Barron]. I am absolutely thrilled, over the top excited about this opportunity and about being the athletic director at Penn State."

A graduate of Wake Forest where she was field hockey team captain, Barbour grew up on the East Coast and has always had a deep passion for Penn State University and its athletic department. That's what drew her to the position when she originally spoke with President Barron about the opportunity.

Immediately, Barbour felt a connection with the people, pride and remarkable accomplishments of Penn State University and its athletic department.

"I love the 'We Are Penn State.' I particularly love what it stands for. It stands for family," Barbour said.

Barbour desires to see national titles in all 31 sports on campus. But first and foremost, she will strive to lead a department with student-athletes who are elite performers in the classroom.

"We are athletic programs again that are all part of a university," Barbour said. "Our student-athletes will be students first, Penn State is incredibly proud of the academic performance of their students and we will continue to be."

Eager to hit the ground running when she begins her duties as athletic director in 23 days, Barbour wants to learn from everyone in the department, especially the head coaches leading Penn State's 31 athletic teams.

"Unity doesn't mean one opinion, and I actually embrace that, embrace the diversity of opinion, diversity in a variety of different ways, and I actually think that will make us stronger in our ability to move forward," Barbour said. "As I said before, I have something to learn from everybody, and I'll be doing a lot of listening."

Numerous head coaches were in attendance at Saturday's introductory press conference. The coaches and athletic department staff then had a chance to mingle with Barbour at a private reception before she boarded a flight to Chicago for Big Ten meetings. The head coaches in attendance exuded great confidence in the future direction of the athletic department.

"There is a culture, history and tradition of tremendous academic achievement at Penn State and that will continue," said head football coach James Franklin. "I know it's important to our president, athletic director and all of our coaches. That will continue. I know we'll spend as much time as we need to so we can start building."


"I am truly thrilled that Sandy Barbour will serve as the next athletic director for Penn State," Lady Lions head coach Coquese Washington said. "Sandy is a strong, dynamic and passionate leader. She is also an incredibly smart visionary and strategic thinker. It is exciting to imagine all the ways Penn State University, and Penn State athletics in particular, will be positively impacted by her leadership."

"I loved everything I heard today," head women's hockey coach Josh Brandwene said. "She has passion, vision and just a great understanding of the Penn State community. Both as a head coach and as an alumnus, I am really excited to start working with her."


Barbour will return to California in the coming days to prepare for her full-time return to Happy Valley on Aug. 18, and the new leader of Penn State Athletics is fired up to get started.

"We are Penn State. I'm all in. I'm ready to get going," said Barbour.

 


Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Season Over But Shoes Still Tied

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By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Running is a sport that never has to stop. Unfortunately, for the Penn State cross country team, however, their season came to a close the weekend prior to Thanksgiving at the NCAA championships in Terre Haute, Ind.

8623932.jpegIt certainly is difficult to measure how well the team as a whole accomplished its goals that were set out at the beginning of the season, but head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan explained that as the season unfolded, the initial goals were altered appropriately.

"You set those preseason goals that are kind of standard off of the year before, and then you get into the season and see how it goes," said Alford-Sullivan. "I feel like we may have come up a little short of our anticipated goals, but we actually achieved what we wanted to as the season unraveled. As it started to come into play we were able to control what we wanted to do."

After three months of strenuous training, the constantly modified goals culminated together at the NCAA championships. With that being said, the focus of the conversation with Alford-Sullivan earlier this week was her final assessments of the women and men's teams.

Thanks to the speedy running of Emily Giannotti, Leigha Anderson, Marta Klebe and Katie Rodden, the women's team concluded their strong season by finishing in 25th place at the NCAA championships.

"On the women's side we definitely achieved what we wanted," said Alford-Sullivan. "We were at first a team that lost our top four from last year, came back at it this year, and ran very competitive Big Ten races, a great regional race, and then went on to the NCAAs and represented extremely well. These are kids that have just gotten better every season and every year for us."

The story was written a little differently on the men's side because even though the whole team did not make it to Terre Haute, star runner Matt Fischer individually qualified and closed out his tremendous year by finishing in 78th place.

"On the guys side we had some highs and lows," said Alford-Sullivan. "We were running as a pretty productive squad. We got a little banged up going into Big Tens, which turned out to be costly at the Big Ten championships. But, I was really proud of the guys not letting that be the final point in the season. They rallied for the regional by running extremely tough and then of course there is Matt Fischer who had a year that he should really be proud of."

Since cross country is a sport where mistakes are not prevalent, Alford-Sullivan expressed how proud she was of her team's performance throughout the fall months.

"You have to give [the runners] a lot of credit," said Alford-Sullivan. "They go out there and test themselves. It's a true grit sport and you have to be really proud of them when they display the effort that they do each practice and each meet."

Despite the fact that the cross country season is officially over, do not fret. As of Dec. 1, the indoor track season has commenced. Not only does the majority of the cross country team participate in indoor track, but most continue to shorten their distance by running outdoor track in the spring, as well.

The cross country runners are the only student-athletes in college that race competitively in three separate seasons from August until the end of June. With that in mind, Alford-Sullivan noted the advantages that her runners acquire by racing on three unique platforms.

"As a coach, I love the three different collegiate running platforms because as soon as one is done I can move on to the next one and get excited about it," said Alford-Sullivan. "We have our strengths and weaknesses in each of those seasons, so it is fun to turn the corner, hit December 1, and know that cross country is done and in the record books and know that it is track time. Now you turn around and focus on a whole other group of people and add the distance runners into the mix."

Thus is the reason why even though cross country is finished until August, the runners' shoes are still tied. Indoor track has already begun, and outdoor track is just around the bend.

Plus, with the recent acquisition of Penn State football senior wide-receiver standout and local State College product, Alex Kenney, the track season is set to showcase a wealth of speed.

"We are thrilled about the addition of [Alex Kenney]," said Alford-Sullivan. "We have a great history in track and field here and these cross country kids are going to make up a great part of it, as well."

Fit for Fritz A Home Run

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By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For the Penn State cross country and track and field teams, what began as just an idea quickly became a reality this past Sunday. An event called "Fit for Fritz" took place inside the Ashenfelter III Indoor Track Facility in an effort to raise awareness and funds for assistant coach Fritz Spence.

This past July, Spence was diagnosed for the second time in five years with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a rare form of cancer that directly attacks the blood and bone marrow.

6990793.jpegSince his re-diagnosis in July, Spence has had to undergo several circuits of chemotherapy, as well as cell-growth injections and a bone marrow biopsy. Currently, Spence is in remission again. He is simply waiting to hear from his doctor regarding yet another blood transplant.

To put into words what Spence has gone through during his fight with cancer is difficult, but for those around him, the one word that has been constant throughout is inspirational.

"We felt it was time to step up and do something to honor coach Spence and his battle and all that he brings to the table," said cross country and track and field head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan. "And also just to help he and his family in the world of this medical experience that he is going through, as well as the costs and finances that he's facing."

The event was a culmination of the coaching staff, a committee of student-athletes and the Penn State athletic department working as one team to put on the Walk-A-Thon event. Those involved in organizing the function were amazed at how a person's stroke of bad luck could bring the team and community together.

"It was really cool in a sense of a team effort, for us to all come together and rally behind coach [Spence] like that," said senior jumper Jon Hendershot. "Just seeing him in here with his little mask on to stay healthy as he prepares for surgery is just inspiring. All we have to deal with is classes and staying on schedule. What he is going through with his family is really inspiring to see that he's so much invested in us that he's still coming in to work with us."

Sunday alone, Penn State cross country and track and field managed to raise $10,521 to help Spence financially support he and his family during his second clash with cancer. Since then, however, a couple more donations have trickled in, pushing the total above $11,000.

"It means so much," said Spence. "Just to see the kids take time out of their busy schedules to organize the whole event and to sacrifice walking the three hours shows how much they appreciate me, and for me, how much I appreciate them, the coaching staff and the whole athletic department from the AD down."

With this being the inaugural "Fit for Fritz" fundraising event, Alford-Sullivan had no idea how well the turnout would be for Spence. In the end, the camaraderie and energy that was poured into the day made it one amazing experience.

"We pulled it off on Sunday," said Alford-Sullivan. "We hit it out of the park. It was just a home run. It had all the elements to it, from the simple aspect of fitness and 'Fit for Fritz' and all that we are about as a track and field and cross country program to the emotional side of doing things for someone who is giving so much back to us."

Even though the women's cross country team and Matt Fischer from the men's cross country team could not participate due to the fact that the nine of them will be competing at the NCAA Championships this upcoming Saturday in Terre Haute, Ind., the remaining 100 cross country and track and field student-athletes were split into teams of four, totaling 25 teams for the event.

The Walk-A-Thon incorporated three unique stages, with the team who accumulated the most laps winning and being dawned as the most "Fit for Fritz."

The first step was for each team member to walk on the track a quarter-mile at a time and then pass a baton to the next teammate for three continuous hours.

During the 10 to 12 minute span when three out of the four team members were not walking with the baton, the next course of action took place. A fitness circuit that included jumping jacks, plyos, pushups and sit-ups was created. If an entire fitness circuit was completed in the 10 to 12 minutes, an extra two laps were added on to the team total.

The final and most fun aspect of the event was karaoke. To keep everyone entertained, a karaoke guru was hired to play some great music. If a participant in the event sang a karaoke song, his or her team earned another two laps.

However, there was a catch to the karaoke. Let's just say that teammates and coaches learned quite a bit about some of the student-athletes who got carried away with the mic.

"I don't think the DJ played a full song because everybody was singing the whole time, back-to-back-to-back for three hours straight the entire team was just doing different karaoke songs," said Hendershot. "It was funny because you got to see some of the teammates characters really come out, people who you wouldn't expect to do karaoke were just goofing around."

As the three hours of walking ticked down to zero, many people, including Spence, noticed the success of the inaugural "Fit for Fritz" and could see this becoming an annual fundraiser in the future for not just AML but for all types of cancer.

"Life is life. Life is like track and field. You have your ups; you have your downs. You have your good days; you have your bad days," said Spence. "I always thought that I could beat this cancer. I have to continue to fight, continue to push. Being around this atmosphere keeps me motivated, strong, and gives me the energy to continue to push." 

Coach's Corner with Cross Country Head Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan

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By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - This past weekend both the men and women's teams competed at the Big Ten Championships in West Lafayette, Ind. The men's squad finished in ninth place and the women's squad finished in fourth place, respectively.

GoPSUsports.com had the opportunity to talk to Penn State cross country head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan this week to talk about the positives that resulted from the Big Ten Championships, the skills that must be refined and improved upon before NCAAs, and some of the runners to watch for as NCAAs approach.


1. What Are Some Positive Take-Aways from the Big Ten Championships?

 

 Matt Fischer

9334600 (1).jpegThe junior out of Kennett Square, Pa., re-set the standard for Penn State at the Big Ten Championships by finishing in third place. No former Nittany Lion has ever placed as high as Fischer did this past Sunday.


"We felt going into it that Fischer was finally prepared for a front-end run at the Big Ten Championships. The Big Ten Championships recognize the top seven and then the second seven is all Big Ten teams. I thought that it was time for Matt to break into the All-Big Ten teams. I didn't know if he'd be first Big Ten or second Big Ten, but I was prepared that a great race for him would be anywhere in the top 10, or so. He really shined. The only thing I said to him during this past weekend of competition was 'Great runners make great decisions, and you have to make good decisions when you're out there. You're out there for five miles; you're on your own. You have to make those good decisions. You finally have the experience to draw off.' And that's what he did. He made great decisions all the way through and put himself in contention to almost win the race. He made program history in the best runner we had finish in the Big Ten Championships. That's the number one bright spot and a great result from the weekend."

-Head Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan

      The Women's Team

Thanks to four top 30 individual finishes, the women's squad managed a 4th place finish in the Big Ten Championships. Marta Klebe, Katie Rodden, Leigha Anderson and Emily Giannotti all finished in the top 30 to pace the Nittany Lions.

"The women's squad has been hanging in the rankings, top 30 in the country, which is about where we are as a team. We are in the top 30, but in the Big Ten, we were the sixth of six teams ranked, so we were in a race where we were the sixth best team going in, and we came out the fourth best team. So that's a huge bright spot. The Big Ten Conference is always so darn difficult. All six of those teams could go on to the NCAA Championships and be probably the best represented conference in there. The bright spot was just the way they ran. They ran tough for what they tried to do. They packed up and found each other. We had four young ladies in the top 30, which is outstanding. Just a really, really impressive day for them."

-Head Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan

      Competitive Conference

Penn State competes in one of the most competitive conferences in the nation. On the men's side there are three teams ranked within the top 20 in Indiana, who won the Big Ten Championships; Michigan, who finished second; and Wisconsin, who finished third.

On the women's side, three Big Ten teams are within the top 15 in the nation. Although Indiana and Wisconsin both dropped out of the top 30 when the most recent rankings came out on Tuesday, Michigan State (first place at Big Ten Championships), Michigan (second place), and Minnesota (third place) are all within the top 15 in the nation.

"Our third bright spot of the weekend was being a part of a very competitive conference. It's just one of those things where it's not always easy to have an end result you're not pleased with, but it's a sport that is just phenomenally, historically awesome. To line up against those guys and gals every year is inspiring for the sport."

-Head Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan



2. What Adjustments Need To Be Made In Preparation for the NCAAs?

 

      Recovery

Cross country is a physically demanding sport, which requires logging several miles and battling the extremities that mother nature has to offer. With the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regionals less than two weeks away, the first thing the Nittany Lions need to do is to rest and recover. Once that is done, it's back to business in preparation for the upcoming NCAAs.

"First and foremost we have to recover off of the Big Ten Championships. We spent the front end of this week recovering. We are headed into the back end of the week now. So starting Friday we will start a pretty good, heavy cycle. Saturday will be a big workout. Sunday will be a long run. Then we will roll into a light workout on Tuesday. So really from Friday to Tuesday we have three important days. Those days are critical because we have to feel good and we have to be prepared mentally and physically for those long runs."

-Head Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan

      Shift Gears

Year after year Penn State travels west to compete against its Big Ten counterparts in the cross country championships. However, when it comes to NCAAs, the Nittany Lions must make a quick and effortless adjustment to battle in the Mid-Atlantic Regional.

"Secondly, we need to shift gears. We are the only Big Ten team that leaves the entire Big Ten to the regionals. The rest of the Big Ten is in the same region. So, we are over here on the east side, in the Mid-Atlantic, and we have to shift gears and compete against different people. We are competing against traditionally very strong cross country again. Both the men and women's sides must compete against national championship teams like Villanova, Georgetown and Princeton. We have to shift gears and prepare for those teams and the strategies for those teams."

-Head Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan

      Increased Distance

Luckily for the women's squad, they do not have to worry about a distance increase from the Big Ten Championships to NCAAs, but for the men, the distance of the race increases from 8 kilometers (about 5 miles) in the Big Ten Championships to 10 kilometers (about 6.2 miles) in NCAAs. The squad has less than two weeks to prepare for such a modification.

"The third point is that the men bump to 10 k. So we go from 8 k, which is 5 miles, to 10 k, which is 6.2 miles. We have to mentally adjust to running that long of a race. Another mile and a quarter longer than they have been racing all season. I am getting them ready for that and getting them excited about the longer run."

-Head Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan



3. Who Are Some Runners To Watch for the NCAAs?

 

      Standout Runners

With the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regionals right around the bend, there are some runners to keep a close eye on. After Fischer's Penn State record-breaking Big Ten Championships performance, he is definitely a runner to keep tabs on as NCAAs approach.

"You are going to see Matt Fischer get after it. He is going to do his very best to get to the NCAA Championships. That means he has to run, lead our team again, be our front-runner and finish as a top four individual at the Mid-Atlantic competition. He will have his hands full doing that, but we think he is going to run well and he will be one of the individuals to watch and see what he can do with things."

-Head Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan


On the women's team, senior Emily Giannotti has caught the eye of her coach and teammates. A natural leader during meets; Giannotti is definitely a runner to watch as NCAAs approach. It is important to note that Giannotti finished in 27th place with a time of 21:44.8 at the Big Ten Championships.

Additionally, moving back to the men's squad, senior Nick Scarpello, who finished in 39th place at the Big Ten Championships with a time of 25:19.0, is another runner that could spin some heads at NCAAs.

"As an individual, I would like to see Emily Giannotti as a senior on the women's side and Nick Scarpello as a senior on the men's side put themselves in contention where they are definitely good leaders for the team and finish All-Region to really have a great senior campaign. Scarpello could easily be a top 15 finisher."

-Head Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan

 

      Dark Horse Runners

At practice Thursday afternoon, Alford-Sullivan really stressed the importance of the women's squad getting a strong fifth runner to really set their team apart from the pack. Alford-Sullivan hinted that sophomore Tori Gerlach, who finished in 74th place at the Big Ten Championships with a time of 22:50.9, could be a dark horse to keep an eye out for come NCAAs.

"We have to bring our fifth up on the women's side. I need a fifth. We had four great runs. We finished four in the top 30, like I said. Our goal is to get five in the top 25. Finishing in the top 25 is considered All-Region, so the women have a goal this weekend of our fifth having a much better day whoever that might be. We will run seven and that gives me three people to pick from. I'll take any of them, but I need a fifth to run with those four and finish us off to have five in the top 25. The fifth dark horse is Tori Gerlach. She is a state champion out of high school, but was sick as a puppy dog during the Big Ten Championships. She could come through and give us a great race. We really are excited about that."

-Head Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan


And that does it for "Coach's Corner" with Penn State cross country head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan. The Nittany Lions return to action next Friday, Nov. 15 for the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional in Bethlehem, Pa.

Standout Runner Leigha Anderson Just Going With The Flow

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By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It is 6 a.m. and star junior runner for the Penn State cross country team, Leigha Anderson, is still fast asleep. Going against the persona of most runners, which involves early morning runs and a bottle of water, Anderson prefers to remain in bed until she has to get up for class.


9346113.jpeg"I don't run in the morning," said Anderson with a laugh. "Plus, I run an average mileage compared to the rest of the team."

With the Big Ten Championships looming, Anderson looks back at her summer training as an integral part of why she has been Penn State's most consistent runner throughout the season.

"I ran more miles over the summer, and I paid attention to the little things," said Anderson. "I definitely took care of my body and really worked on not getting injured so that I could avoid the little injury problems that I had last year."

However, the little injuries that Anderson encountered last season were far from little. While most cross country runners were able to train via track during the spring and into the summer months, Anderson had to battle a blood condition, known as anemia.

For those unfamiliar with what the illness entails, anemia is a condition marked by a deficiency of red blood cells resulting in fatigue.

"I was anemic at the end of the track season, so I didn't really get to run very much," said Anderson. "I took a couple weeks off just to get my mind back together and my body healthy. It's all about focusing on the details."

With anemia now behind her, Anderson has been able to concentrate more closely on the current season. She has become the Nittany Lions most consistent runner, finishing second in the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational, 30th in the Paul Short Run and 43rd at the Pre-National Invitational.

Unlike the regimented runners, Anderson has taken somewhat of a unique approach to find success.

"I just don't stress about the little things and don't go crazy when things don't go my way. I am not a very routine person. I just go with the flow," said Anderson. "The key is to pay attention to what I'm eating, stay on top of my studies and work hard at practice."

Due to her class standing and the success that she has encountered this season, Anderson has groomed herself into a leadership role on the team. Nevertheless, the transition for Anderson was one that simply happened with time.

"It's a little bit different from last year. I had girls ahead of me last year that I looked up to. It's cool to think that I can be a good example for the underclassmen," said Anderson. "I embrace being a leader. I definitely like to get people's feedback after a race to see what is going on with them. We talk about what we want to accomplish at Big Ten's and how we can improve."

Thanks in large part to Beth Alford-Sullivan, head coach of Penn State cross country, Anderson's running strength and leadership qualities have been developed to a very high level of ability. Anderson's preference of just going with the flow has been enhanced by Alford-Sullivan's coaching style.

"She has definitely helped a lot. She puts all of our training together for us to follow. She keeps us motivated for practice everyday. She definitely doesn't put too much pressure on us," said Anderson. "For example, this week before Big Tens has been very low key. She keeps everyone calm before big races."

To keep her mind clear during the season, Anderson utilizes the amenities that Netflix provides. She recently finished Desperate Housewives and Parenthood and says that she has moved on to a new series called The Walking Dead to watch during her free time.

With that being said, Netflix is not the only outlet that Anderson has to keep her mind clear of overthinking about running. Anderson plans on dressing up with her teammates for Halloween and then climbing Mt. Nittany and carving pumpkins with the squad once they return from the Big Ten Championships.

Even though the goal is to not overthink about what is ahead, Anderson has her mind set straight for the meet this upcoming weekend. After placing 31st overall at the Big Ten Championships last year, it is natural for her to have high expectations for herself and the team at the Big Ten Championships on Sunday in West Lafayette, Ind.

"We are definitely starting to taper, which is nice, because our mileage is getting lower," said Anderson. "We all feel fresher for the bigger races. A top 3 finish at Big Tens would be very good for our team."

At this point in the season, the fact that Netflix and fun team activities are awaiting Anderson and the rest of the team when they return from West Lafayette is not significant. What is important to Anderson is a strong finish at the Big Ten Championships.

Athlete Blog - Pre-National Recap

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By Nick Scarpello, GoPSUsports.com Student-Athlete Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - So another update here from the men's team post-pre-Nat's - but of course, ladies first: we want to congratulate the women on a really nice team effort on Saturday as they grabbed 13th place. Leigha Anderson ran really tough up front and secured a 43rd place finish. Overall the ladies ran great, and this time we got to share in the celebration with them. Matt Fischer came through huge for us with his 29th place finish. It was no surprise to anyone, of course. Matt knows, as do we all, that he's been putting in the miles, doing all the right things, and grinding it out in the workouts. And so cracking 24 minutes for the first time was no surprise to him and no surprise to us. No one deserved to have a great race more than this guy.

9284452 (1).jpegMeanwhile, hats off to Robby. Robby expects great things every single time he races.  He is never one to back down, and inserted himself right with the second chase pack alongside Fischer. They worked together extremely well and his mid-race persistence paid off. Meanwhile, freshman Conner Quinn is still on a roll and really came through for us in a big way on Saturday. A little uncharacteristic of a freshman, quite honestly, to be as clutch as Conner has been. Kind of makes me wish I had four years on the squad ahead of me as well!

So what was different from Paul Short? I think the guys would agree that it was resolve. We knew we needed to run with absolute resolve, fully intent on making a statement and scoring some at-large points. This time around we had that resolve, and we just got after it. It was awesome. We got off the line hard and just wouldn't back down. Our three, four, and five runners all fought their way up through the field in the final 3,000 meters. It was a hard-fought battle and I know certainly everyone is proud of 17th place in a field of 52 teams, but I doubt we will be resting on our laurels any time soon.

As for now, it's simply time to get back to work. We will put in a couple of good workouts here between now and Big Ten Championships and get ready for a fight in one of the toughest conferences in the country. One thing is for sure: it looks like our guys are hitting their stride at the right time, and this next run is shaping up to be a fun race for everyone to watch.

Nittany Lions Race Competitively Over The Weekend

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By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State cross country had quite the busy weekend as the B-team of the team raced in the Penn State National Friday morning and then almost immediately after the entire team packed their bags and traveled to Terre Haute, Ind., for the Pre-National Invitational.

9353702.jpegDuring the Penn State National on Friday morning, not only did current runners get to race, but also Penn State alumni from across the nation had the opportunity to return to Happy Valley and lace up the shoes again.

"It is great to see our alumni come back and run," said head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan.

Even with the alumni returning to campus, the current squad members did not take a break as they were poised to impress the coaching staff with stellar running. Led by freshman Julie Kocjancic, who crossed the finish line in 22:21 for an 18th-place finish, the women's team secured a fourth-place team finish. Junior Lauren Mills also led the attack for the women, who individually placed 21st with a time of 22:30.

"It was good opportunity to race the B-team at home to give those runners much needed experience," said Alford-Sullivan. "Julie [Kocjancic] and Lauren [Mills] both raced very competitively up front for the women's side."

On the men's side, only two athletes ran for the Nittany Lions. Both runners were redshirt freshman and both runners ran unattached. However, Za'von Watkins and Thomas Damiani gained experience by competing successfully in the men's meet. Watkins placed 30th with a time of 28:11 and Damiani followed suit in 43rd place with a time of 29:03.

"Although Za'von and Damiani ran unattached, they gained valuable experience," said Alford-Sullivan. "I was very impressed with the way they ran against the field."

With the conclusion of the Penn State National Friday morning, the mindset changed overnight for Alford-Sullivan and her Nittany Lions as they traveled to Indiana State's Lavern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course Saturday morning to make an impact in the Pre-National Invitational.

Both the men's and women's cross country teams had impressive top-20 finished with the women placing 13th and the men 17th, respectively.

"There was great competition today," said Alford-Sullivan. "Going into the meet we were very focused on having productive outcomes and that is exactly what happened. We saw teams from all over the country today and to finish in the top-20 on both the women's and men's sides feels very rewarding."

The women's squad raced exceptionally well, finishing in 13th place thanks to the efforts of junior Leigha Anderson and senior Emily Giannotti. Individually, Anderson ended with a time of 20:58:80; good enough for 43rd place, and Giannotti was the 91st runner to cross the finish line with a time of 21:23:47.

"Leigha [Anderson] and Emily [Giannotti] were very tough and ran very competitively today," said Alford-Sullivan. "The leadership that they displayed on the course is an integral part of the success of this team."

Rounding out the top five runners for the women was Tori Gerlach. The sophomore out of Perkasie, Pa. finished 169th overall with a time of 21:53:57 to aid in the Nittany Lions success.

"The ladies competed very well," said Alford-Sullivan. "Tori [Gerlach] showed today that she is going to be a difference maker going forward, but she still has a lot of room to grow."

Flipping over to the men's race, the Nittany Lions managed a stellar 17th place finish thanks to the performances of Matt Fischer, Robby Creese and Connor Quinn. Individually, Fischer placed 29th with a time of 23:59:35, Creese finished 57th with a time of 24:16:76, and Quinn ended in 151st place with a time of 24:57:91.

"We were very strong today. Fischer was very impressive with his top 30 finish," said Alford-Sullivan. "However, Quinn brought home the 17th place finish as he was a game-changer late in the race."

Overall, the Nittany Lions were very impressive over the weekend. Not only was the preservation of the Penn State cross country program displayed during the alumni run Friday morning, but the future of the first-rate program showed lots of promise with the way in which the underclassmen raced in the Penn State National.

And, with a top-20 finish by both the men and women's teams Saturday morning in the Pre-National Invitational, head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan and her squads look to carry the momentum to when they return to action Sunday, Nov. 3 for the Big Ten championships.  

Matt Fischer Continues Rusty Boots Tradition

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By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Tradition is a remarkable word. The term has been utilized over the history of time to create unforgettable moments out of forgettable actions. Eclectic groups, organizations, families and teams have shown the willpower to continue tradition, no matter the circumstances.

9334600.jpegSuch is the case for standout runner Matt Fischer. Described only by his head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan as "baby face" or "peach face" for his child-like facial features, the redshirt junior out of Kennett Square, Pa., has managed to preserve the men's cross country tradition while at the same time sprouting a few patches of stubble here and there.

This season, Fischer is running with "Rusty Boots."  Well, he is not literally running with corroding steal blocks on his feet. Instead, the words are inked on his leg to represent what it truly means to run for Penn State.

"I can't really divulge what it means. It is kind of a well-kept secret within the guy's distance team," said Fischer. "I will say that it is a traditional motto for the men's cross country team that actually has been around for 40 years towards the beginning of Harry Groves coaching time here."

By not revealing the true secrecies of the 40-plus year tradition, Fischer exhibits exactly why his head coach is not hesitant to say he "exemplifies 'Rusty Boots'."

But keeping tradition a secret is not the only reason why Fischer was inked. Fischer is a tremendous student in the classroom and has developed new traits during his time in State College that have added to the team's success this season.

"He's transformed from a kid who was simply part of a team to now being the leader of the team as a true captain and front-runner," said Alford-Sullivan. "He's cracked the code."

Like he does now at Penn State, during his days at Unionville high school, Fischer ran both cross country and track. Back then, Fischer was logging 50-mile weeks to train for his events.  Such efforts allowed him to wave goodbye to Unionville as a state champion in the 2-mile run. Let's just say that his training has been modified just a bit since arriving at Penn State back in 2010.

"There is a huge improvement curve for distance running just because it takes more time for the body's cardiovascular system to mature and get used to the larger volume," said Fischer. "It definitely is a long process to get to the highest level of competition in NCAA, and coming from where I came from in high school to where I am now--running less than 50 miles a week back then to around 100 miles now--it definitely is a long way."

The old adage 'hard work pays off' is the perfect phrase to represent Fischer. An intense training regiment has allowed Fischer to find success on both the cross country and track fields.

"He ran right at 14 minutes last year, which is a phenomenal run for a redshirt sophomore," said Alford-Sullivan. "This year I suspect he'll do even better things becoming more of a force in the Big Ten in his event on the track in the 5,000."

However, hard work is not a stranger to Fischer. He comes from a family where both parents were runners and where his brother, ironically, wrestled for Penn State. One would think that having a brother at Penn State who is also a student-athlete would spark competition, but that is not the case for Fischer and his brother, Nick.

"We used to [be competitive]. He actually used to run cross country in high school to get in shape, and that was back before I got really serious [about running]. We were a little bit competitive with running back then, but we are just supportive of each other now," said Fischer. "We get along really well. We are very close."

Due to Fischer's arduous training routine, last week at Paul Short Run was the first time he was able to run competitively in a meet all season.

"It was nice [to be able to race]. I hadn't raced in a while, and I was starting to get a little antsy with the team already having raced a couple of times," said Fischer. "Last week's race really wasn't the ideal race. It was hot, so it is not what you are used to normally with cross country. But, it was nice to get back out there. I felt a little rusty and not exactly 100 percent fresh, so I am hoping to feel 100% race ready by this weekend with the race at Pre-Nats."

Fischer managed to place 23rd out of 397 runners with a time of 24:32 to help the Nittany Lions finish in 10th place, but he stressed that he still has work to do in preparation for Pre-Nats this upcoming weekend.

"I am definitely hoping to come into true form for the season here and see what kind of shape I'm in for the rest of the season," said Fischer. "Hopefully we will have a confidence in our team that says 'we are in a position that if we run well we can make it to the NCAA Championships and have a season that we are proud of.'"

The effort and determination that Fischer has displayed during his time at Penn State has not gone unnoticed by teammates, coaches and even professors.

"He epitomizes the heart and soul of the team," said Alford-Sullivan. "He has really learned about training and he has come to me with a lot of questions and insight into how to get better and what he wants to do. He's at a stage where he is running where the college guys have to run."

His triumph in races has been achieved while wearing running shoes, but it is his acquired leadership and intense training that has been a polished boot stuck in an otherwise rusty tradition.

Athlete Blog - The Paul Short Run is Almost Here

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By Nick Scarpello, GoPSUsports.com Student-Athlete Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -
The countdown is on! The Paul Short run is nearly upon us, set for the first Saturday of October.

9284452.jpegIt's a little bit of a weird feeling: we've been grinding through a long summer, preseason, and then another four weeks of training together on top of that. We've got a lot of miles under our belts and yet it's the first time we run a full squad. That's cross country for you, though. Time to finally let the Lions out of the cage I suppose!

So here's what we're looking at right now: not a single guy on this roster has ever gone to Paul Short Run, at least not as a Nittany Lion. But to many of us, the Lehigh course is quite familiar. It brings myself, Matt Fischer, Chris Campbell, and Conner Quinn back to the site of those high school cross country battles for League and District Championships. Except of course this time we race for each other instead of against each other. The best part about Lehigh is, for the Pennsylvania guys on our squad (like me), it is going to feel almost like a home meet.

We have been preparing as usual here in State College: wake, eat, run, study, sleep. Repeat. It's been an awesome training block between Spiked Shoe and Paul Short and obviously a vital time for fitness gains. From the freshman on up, everyone is capitalizing! We've mixed up the training groups a bit in workouts and gotten some great dress rehearsals lately in pack running.

That has always been the Penn State way: no man left behind. We work together on long runs at Rails to Trails. We mix up freshman with seniors in tune-up workouts. Everyone is accountable, everyone matters. It sure would be nice to have a few all-Americans that could "put the team on their back" and punch all of our tickets to NCAA's. On this team though everyone knows that on any given Saturday they may be that number five man. When the race outcome is on the line, they're going to be ready to stay with the pack every step of the way.

Assuming no one goes missing on a run this week (I'm looking at you, Fischer and Robby!) we're all expecting to show up at Lehigh and have ourselves some great races. Well, that's all for this week. Gotta run. Literally. Team workout at the state game lands. Wish us luck!

FEATURE: Steady Footing For Giannotti

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By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For a college athlete, balance is the key to success on and off the field. It takes that innate desire to want to flourish as a student-athlete at the collegiate level. For cross country senior Emily Giannotti, such drive has come naturally. She has managed to keep her daydreaming of actors Ryan Gosling and Dave Franco to a minimum in order to perfect the art that is balance.

9079909.jpegThis past weekend Giannotti completed her final regular season home race in the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational with a first place victory. Giannotti defeated the field with a time of 21:17 for her first career individual win while donning the blue and white.

"
It was definitely unexpected," said Giannotti. "It was my last time racing on that course so to be able to grab a win was awesome."

In just three years, Giannotti graduated from Penn State with stellar academic achievements and honors.

Giannotti's outstanding academic efforts earned the the opportunity for her to lead the College of Education at this past summer's graduation ceremonies as a student marshal. What Giannotti attributes most to her success on and off the field is what separates her from the pack.

"I have always been a perfectionist who is very organized," said Giannotti. "I love to be busy, and I am a self-proclaimed nerd! I love my field of study, so doing work is fun for me."

Following her graduation with a degree in rehabilitation and human resources, Giannotti is now pursuing her master's degree in counselor education as part of the Counselor Education Master's Program (M.Ed.).

"My specific emphasis is in rehab counseling. I love it!" said Giannotti. "I am not sure exactly what I want to do with it yet and what population I want to work with, but I have been really interested in the Wounded Warriors Project and maybe working with veterans who suffer from PTSD."

Thankfully for Giannotti, her family has not been affected physically or mentally by war, but still she displays her heartwarming compassion for others through her seriously interest in post-war rehabilitation. In her mind there is a direct link between cross country and rehabilitating mentally and physically distraught veterans.

"I just really like how they connect physical health and exercise with mental health because I feel like that is what running has been for me, an outlet," said Giannotti.

Even though Giannotti is unsure of how she wants to utilize her Penn State undergraduate and graduate degrees once she leaves Happy Valley, it is clear that she has her mind set on helping others. She understands that life is more than simply what she has accomplished at Penn State.

For four years, Giannotti has managed to balance running with her academics, but it is safe to say that there is more to her than just school and cross country.

Although she is a "self-proclaimed nerd" Giannotti wants people to know that she is still "pretty chill." Giannotti uses the little free time she has to do many of the typical college undertakings.

"I love movies," said Giannotti. "Oh, and I like to sleep when I have free time, too."

Since Giannotti is such an aficionado when it comes to movies, when asked who her favorite actor or actress is, Giannotti sprinted to her answer.

"I love Ryan Gosling. He is a fox," said Giannotti. "I like James Franco's younger brother, Dave, a lot, too!"

To think that Giannotti encompasses a trait that is the title of one of Gosling's film is quite the stretch. Yet, Gosling did star in the movie Drive, and throughout her Penn State career, Giannotti has proven to herself, her coaches, her family, her teammates and her friends that she possesses the drive to find success in future endeavors.

The drive that Giannotti occupies and the success that Giannotti has encountered during her time at Penn State would not have been possible without the loving support of her family.


"I have been so fortunate to have the family that I have. We are such a close family," said Giannotti. "They have been awesome. Definitely super supportive without being the 'over bearing parents.'"

Since day one at Penn State, Giannotti has been able to keep her feet steady and her scale balanced. She epitomizes what it means to be a student-athlete at Penn State.