Recently in Cross Country Category
Penn State has won 92 Big Ten titles, including 21 in women's soccer (16 regular season).
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Just four months into his tenure as commissioner of the
Big Ten Conference, Jim Delany recalls an idea brought to the table by former
Illinois President Stan Ikenberry.
It was October of 1989 when Ikenberry, who spent time as a senior administrator
at Penn State earlier in his career, broached the thought of adding an
institution to the Big Ten for the first time since Michigan State was invited
to become a member in 1949.
The Big Ten then began a formal research process of an institution that would
bridge a Midwestern league to the East.
The Pennsylvania State University was on the table for discussion as a superb
academic institution with a rich tradition in athletic success.
Delany, whose sister attended Penn State as a graduate student, didn't need much
convincing. He knew the level of potential a partnership between Penn State and
the Big Ten could foster.
Big Ten hadn't changed in many, many decades, but I thought if the opportunity
to expand presented itself it was a no brainer," Delany said earlier this week.
"Excellent academics. Excellent athletics. And pointed towards the East Coast,
I thought there was a lot of potential there. That was my recommendation at the
The process moved forward with the presidents and chancellors of the Big Ten
institutions discussing the topic before news broke just before the holidays in
December of 1989 that Penn State could be on its way into a new conference. Under
the direction of athletic director Jim Tarman at the time, Penn State had been
competing as an independent in football for more than a century, and the rest
of the department had been a member of the Atlantic 10 since 1976.
When the news initially surfaced, women's volleyball head coach Russ Rose, who
along with field hockey coach Charlene Morett-Curtiss are the two current Penn
State head coaches who were on staff in 1989, was giving a presentation at the
annual women's volleyball coaches convention (AVCA) about the importance of
NCAA Tournament at-large bids for teams in smaller conferences.
"I remember talking in front of the group about
the importance that not all of the at-large bids go to the bigger conferences
and that there were good teams in other conferences even though they didn't
have the same notoriety, said Rose. "We have a lunch break. I turn on ESPN at
lunch, and I see that Penn State is going to be a member of the Big Ten. I come
back. I say to some people that I would like to retract what I said about
The formal process concluded with a vote in Iowa City on June 4, 1990, at which
time Penn State was officially accepted as a member of the Big Ten Conference.
Twenty-five years have passed in a partnership that allowed both the University
and conference to reach unprecedented heights on the field and in the
a broad perspective, at the time, my view was that it was a tremendous fit for
both sides. And history has proven that," Delany said. "With all the other
expansions around the country, I'm not sure there was one that benefitted both
institution and conference as much as this did, largely because of the
characteristics of Penn State were so well matched with the characteristics of
the Big Ten."
The positive news zipped throughout campus shortly after the vote in Iowa.
"I remember hearing about the announcement from Mary Jo Haverbeck, from the Sports
Information office," said Morett-Curtiss. "She told me about us going in and
how it was going to have a major impact for women's athletics at Penn State."
It was an announcement that changed the landscape of funding and development
for all of Penn State's 28 programs at the time, and it was a day
Morett-Curtiss remembers quite well.
"Ironically, I had gone for a run that day on the trails near Sunset Park and
as I'm running, I see someone walking in front of me and it was Joe Paterno,"
Morett-Curtiss said. "And it was that day, so I said to him, 'hey what's going
to happen?' He said, 'I think this is going to be a really good thing for Penn
State and the exposure all of the programs are going to get.'"
The women's volleyball program captured Penn State's first Big Ten title in 1992, marking volleyball's first of 16 conference crowns.
Penn State's teams felt the impact of the Big Ten conference almost
"What it did for us when we joined the Big Ten is that it No. 1 it resulted in
a reassessment of the levels of commitment we had to the various programs,"
Rose said. "We became fully funded when we joined the Big Ten. Prior to that,
we were not fully funded. And we were not fully staffed. Entering Big Ten,
collectively, for all of the sports resulted in us having a new commitment from
the University to try and be competitive. From a volleyball perspective, we had
been competitive prior to that, but playing in the Big Ten in women's
volleyball made us better because the level of competition was better than we
were experiencing in the Atlantic 10."
At the time, women's volleyball had just one assistant coach on the staff
alongside Rose and nine scholarships to field a roster. Joining the Big Ten
boosted the program to full funding and 12 scholarships.
"As I look at it now, we could have had some great teams if we had funding in
the early years," said Rose. "That was just the way that it was. When you take a job, that is the job you
took. When we joined the Big Ten, a lot of us got a better job without having
to move. But it's way more competitive. Recruiting is a lot different than what
we had experienced in the Atlantic 10."
The same can be said for what Morett-Curtiss experienced within the field
"The financial support from a scholarship standpoint was huge right away," said
Morett-Curtiss. "And knowing our field that we were going to build was going to
be a first rate facility."
The investment for success around the Big Ten stood out during Penn State's
transition. Every institution and athletic program strives to be the best. It's
a trait that has not changed during the department's 25 years as a member, and
it's something that will be a trademark of the Big Ten for decades to come.
"The level of commitment to being good across the conference, everybody cared,"
said Rose. "I don't believe every conference across the country has that sort
of commitment in all of their sports. I think that is one of the things that
makes the Big Ten really unique. If they offer it, they care and they want to
Penn State's time in the Big Ten has been marked by excellence in the classroom
and on the field of play. In all, Penn State's programs have accounted for 92
Big Ten championships from 15 different programs - 76 regular season and 16 post-season. Additionally,
more than 170 student-athletes have accounted for nearly 300 individual Big Ten
Penn State student-athletes have earned more than 5,000 Academic All-Big Ten
recognitions since it joined the conference, with its three highest totals
during the past three years, led by 296 in 2012-13.
"Penn State's entrance into the Big Ten not only changed the
intercollegiate sports landscape, it also changed our academic landscape and
our future. Our size, our academic reputation and our athletic tradition
matched up well with Big Ten schools," said Penn State President Eric
Barron, who also noted that all Big Ten schools are flagship universities for
their states. "The academic side of the Big Ten is known as the Committee
on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) and the institutions together have annual
research expenditures topping $10.2 billion -- more than the Ivy League and the
University of California System combined -- and they educate a total of nearly
600,000 students. The benefits from being part of such an outstanding and
prestigious organization with such an expansive footprint across the nation are
The women's volleyball program earned Penn
State's first Big Ten crown during the 1992 season, just one year after the
team began competing in the league. The title marked the first of Penn State's superlative
16 Big Ten titles in women's volleyball, in addition to seven NCAA
Championships since 1999.
Like women's volleyball, the women's soccer program has been a benchmark of success
in conference play. The program became the department's 29th varsity
sport in 1994. Since then, Penn State has won an unprecedented 16 conference
titles, including a string of 15-straight from 1998-2012.
The football program claimed the Big Ten title in its second season of
competition during an undefeated Rose Bowl championship campaign in 1994. Coach
Joe Paterno's '94 squad became the first Big Ten team to ever post a 12-0
record. The '94 crown marked the program's first of three Big Ten championships
to date (2005 and 2008).
The fall season of 2005 stands out as a monumental period in Penn State's
history within the conference. Nittany Lion teams clinched five Big Ten titles
in a span of 30 days. The list included field hockey, football, men's soccer,
women's soccer and women's volleyball. Since the fall of 2005, Penn State teams
have won 51 Big Ten championships (5.1 titles per year in a 10-year span).
Penn State clinched five Big Ten titles in a span of 30 days
during the fall of 2005, including one for the women's volleyball team.
It's impossible to quantify how the partnership between Penn State and the Big
Ten altered the recruiting landscape for the teams on campus and how the
recruiting gains equated to success on the field of play. But pitching a
world-renowned education with an elite conference affiliation cultivated
relationships with premier student-athletes.
"The name recognition was big for football, but when you see how many of the Universities
and programs have been successful on a national level, I think that has greatly
helped," Morett-Curtiss. "Exposure for all of the Universities within the
conference has helped us all grow. Combining the academic side of what these
Universities have with the athletics, it's a very powerful combination when we
go out recruiting student-athletes."
A big piece to the exposure of Penn State teams during the past 25 years was
the launch of the Big Ten Network on Aug. 30, 2007. More than 800 Penn State
sporting events have aired live on the BTN since it launched. The benefits of
the conference's TV network, which is in more than 60 million homes, increased visibility across the country for
the department in a way that cannot be measured.
"The Network was a major step for us," Morett-Curtiss. "Just having the
opportunity to have games on TV so that little girls can watch and learn about
the sport. It's helped, not only exposure for the program, but it's helped the
sport grow. It's just a phenomenal avenue for us to showcase our University and
The BTN's impact goes back to what Rose talked about as one of the immediate
impacts his program felt - funding. Not only did the BTN infinitely increase
exposure for Penn State teams, it has played a paramount role in increased
revenues for each institution.
"Certainly, the Big Ten Network has been instrumental in generating funds for
the Universities and the conference and the bowl revenue sharing has resulted
in more money for all of the schools and the conference," said Rose.
In 2008, Penn State captured its third Big Ten title in football
en route to a trip to the Rose Bowl.
the competitive atmosphere is intense between teams across all of the
conference's sports, each member institution understands that the individual success
aids in the growth of the collective conference.
"I think the relationship has been a really positive one," said Rose. "There
are a lot of similarities between the various Universities."
"Everybody in the Big Ten shares what they do and why they do it; best
practices," said Dave Baker, Associate Athletic Director for Business
Operations. "We share lots of ideas, at least from the business manager and
ticketing perspective. We learn things from one another. And there aren't
secrets. We all work together and try to help each other out...We all don't do
things the same way. We all have limitations, but we are all looking to help
one another out for the betterment of the conference.
"Some people would find it hard to believe that people in the Big Ten root for
other Big Ten teams in the postseason, but we do. We follow what is going
on...It is a cooperative spirit and a partnership."
Baker is one of just a handful of Penn State administrators and coaches who
have been with Intercollegiate Athletics during the past 25 years. That list
includes Jan Bortner, who was head coach of the men's tennis team in 1990 and
has since transitioned into a role as an associate athletic director. Among the
key changes Baker felt from the business operation centered on travel. Bus
trips were the norm for Penn State teams in the Atlantic 10, but the geography
of the Big Ten led to more plane travel.
A quarter century has passed since initial discussions of a new relationship
took place and bonds were formed. Many things have changed significantly for
Penn State, the conference and intercollegiate athletics nationwide, but it's
been 25 years marked by growth stemming from a vision in 1989.
"Pennsylvania is a very important state. It served as a bridge to the East for
us. It made our football offerings stronger," said Delany. "It has been
excellence with national championships in a variety of sports. And I have
always felt that the 1994 Penn State team was the best team in the country; no
disrespect to Nebraska. When you look at the players that team had (five first
team All-Americans on offense) and what that group accomplished. That team was
the national runner-up. That was a tremendous football team. I've seen some
very good basketball teams both on the men's side and the women's side. And
obviously, the wrestling and volleyball programs have been dominant on the
Penn State has won a total of 27 national championships since joining the Big
Ten, including three in 2013-14, and the department's collective success speaks
By no means was the integration in 1990 an easy one, but the partnership
between the University and Big Ten is a match that enabled both sides to
mutually prosper in a way neither side could have envisioned when the formal vote
concluded 25 years ago today.
The wrestling team began a string of four-straight Big Ten
titles in March of 2011.
GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony
By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach John Gondak and two members of the Penn
State cross country teams are headed west to Indiana this weekend to compete in
the 2014 NCAA Cross Country Championships.
Freshman Jillian Hunsberger is making her National stage debut after
qualifying at the Mid-Atlantic Regional with an 11th place (20
minutes, 49 seconds) finish in the 6,000-meter run.
The freshman has had a great 2014 season posting competitive times in all
As most athletes would be, she is excited, nervous, and ready for the
"I don't event know what to expect I'm just going to go and try my hardest.
Just thinking about the race, making sure I have it planned out," said
Hunsberger. "I [mostly] mentally preparing, I will be excited on Saturday.
Fifth-year senior Matt Fischer has had an exemplary year. He finished first in
both races he competed in at home and was named second team All-Big Ten at the
Big Ten Championships.
Fischer, the Mid-Atlantic Men's Athlete of the Year, is making his second trip
to the NCAA Championships this weekend after a phenomenal first-place finish at
the Regional meet with a time of 30 minutes, 16 seconds.
"I was pretty excited and just to see how well the team did was exciting. It
was a bit of a let down when we found out that we didn't make it [to
Nationals]," said Fischer. "Personally, it ended up working out and I think it
set me up well for this week."
As Fischer looks to end his senior year in the best way he can, his second trip
to Terre Haute, Indiana provides opportunity for preparation.
"Last year was my first time there and I wanted to go out there and get
All-American but there were 70-80 guys that at any given day could fall in
there too," said Fischer. "I'm just more mentally and physical ready [this
year] and I'm more confident."
In 2013, Fischer posted a 78th place finish in 31 minutes, 6 seconds,
a 10,000-meter time.
"I feel that I still have work to do and I'm not satisfied at all and I want a
big result this weekend," he said. "Making sure I feel good is all that matters
at this point. There's only one left and I have to put all my energy into that
This weekend will see Fischer final collegiate cross country race, however, he
doesn't fear the end quite yet as he stays focused on the mission.
excited. I feel like I'm in the best spot I've been all season at the right
time and as long as I can put that together on Saturday and I can walk away
happy with what I did, it'll be a good end to the season," he said.
Hunsberger will represent the
Nittany Lions in the 6,000-meter run set to kick off at noon on Saturday
followed by the men's 10,000-meter run slated for 1 p.m.
By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In less than twenty-four hours the Penn State men's
and women's cross country teams will gear up to run at one of this season's
most important meets yet, the Mid-Atlantic Regional.
Head coach John Gondak and the Nittany Lions are thrilled about the
opportunity to host the region-wide event and they are looking forward to
seeing some of the top teams the Mid-Atlantic has to offer gather in Happy
"I really look forward to providing an opportunity for the 32 teams that
are coming in this weekend and giving them an outstanding experience," said
Gondak. "I know [the meet has] been on [the team's] mind and I know they're
Anticipating the Competition
The trails and locker rooms have been murmuring all week as excitement for
the race sets in for student-athletes and coaches.
This Friday, the Nittany Lions will look to qualify for the 2014 NCAA
National Championships and they're confident in their training, which has set
stage for this race.
Coming off a record-breaking third-place finish at the Big Ten Championships
two weeks ago, the team's confidence on the men's side is at an all-time
"We're excited to get back in the game with this weekend's meet. [Big Tens]
was a new burst of energy for the team and to bring that into regionals is
exciting," said fifth-year senior Matt Fischer.
The women's side has performed with tremendous consistency this season in
their pack strategy and concentration. This weekend looks to be no different.
"We have a really positive attitude going into Regionals and we're looking
for some good turnouts," said senior Katie Rodden.
As top-ranked teams like No. 2 Georgetown (women) and No. 7 Villanova (men)
trickle into town, Fischer and Rodden will look to edge the competition with
Both seniors are contenders for a positive result after showing continuous
improvement at all regional competitions within the last four years and both have
been preparing persistently as they hope to leave their mark in their final
"We just want to do what we need to do to get to the NCAA meet. We want to
perform well and use that to get to NCAAs and kill it there too," said Fischer.
"I definitely want to be All-Region again and [I want] to help put our team
in a position to make it to Nationals," said Rodden.
Defending the Home Turf
Gondak marks his ninth Mid-Atlantic Regional competition as a part of the Penn
State program and even after almost a decade of coaching the Nittany Lions, championship
racing still sparks adrenaline.
"Every time we can host a championship event at home, it's thrilling," said
Gondak. "As soon as the Big Ten [Championship] meet finished, the excitement
surrounding the Regional meet has been building since then."
With this year's race location set for Penn State's home turf at the
Blue-White Golf courses, the team will compete in a convenient and fun atmosphere.
"That's an exciting factor to this year's competition. We feel like it's an
advantage to know that we're really familiar with the course. It's a nice thing
to have and I think it will work in our favor," said Fischer.
"The fact that we're able to train on the golf course on a regular basis
allows our student-athletes to have a really good feel for [the course]. It
gives them an advantage but at the end of the day everybody is out there racing
and racing hard and we've got some extremely talented teams in our region,"
said Gondak. "We're looking forward to going out and doing the best we can do."
The senior student-athletes running on Friday like Lauren Mills, Matt
Fischer, and Katie Rodden avoid talk of leaving behind the blue and white as
they approach the final stages of the season, but they're all aware of the
opportunities that surround them.
As for Fischer and Rodden, they anticipate their last time stepping up to
their home start line to be memorable and exhilarating.
"The mentality going in [we're thinking] it's a qualifying meet. I
personally want to do whatever I can to help the team...Go out there and stay
relaxed. [I want to] just help myself [and the team] have the best race [we]
can," said Fischer.
The younger Nittany Lions are bringing out their best post-season strategies
to ensure the team has the best outcome it's capable of and they're excited to
compete against some of the greatest runners in the area of Friday.
"As I always say, I'm not big on predictions...I'm just hoping they can go
out there and put themselves in a position to qualify for the National
Championship," said Gondak.
The event will bring an exciting atmosphere to campus full of fans,
athletes, free giveaways, and upbeat music. Festivities kick-off with the
women's 6K at noon followed by the men's 10K race at 1 p.m.
By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Championship season is always the most exhilarating.
This weekend the Penn State cross country team travels to the University of
Iowa to begin its post-season and face some familiar foes at the 2014 Big Ten
There's a lot of excitement surrounding the event as the Nittany Lions
prepare to face a handful of ranked teams including the No. 1 Michigan State and
No. 4 Michigan women and the No. 6 Wisconsin and No. 14 Michigan men.
While the teams will look to build off their previous meets and show
improvement against their elite opponents, they're mostly excited about the
intensity that comes with conference racing.
A pair of senior women consisting of Lauren Mills and Katie Rodden will travel to
the Big Ten Championship for their last time but the days leading up to the
race haven't lost their thrill.
"Championship time is always fun. [The] Big Ten [Championship] in general
is always a good meet," said Rodden. "It's tradition that ten days out [from
the event] we have themed days [at practice]. It's something silly to get us excited."
There were a few nerds and some barn animals running around the course at
practice this week but the fun didn't distract the team from their goals.
"Same mindset going in," said Rodden. "Obviously [we're looking for]
improvement and I know people were satisfied [last meet] but we know that we
can do better. At the Big Ten meet you know all the colors and you can see
exactly who you need to beat."
The freshmen women have stepped up to the plate this season showing consistency
and determination. They are sure to display their best performance yet at their
first conference championship outing.
"Particularly on the women's side Elizabeth [Chikotas] and Jillian
[Hunsberger] have been making an impact and have been consistently in the top
five this year. I'm excited to see what they can do at the Big Ten meet. It's
very competitive but they're prepared," said head coach John Gondak.
"It's exciting to have them. Even though they're freshman they act older
and more mature and I'm confident they are going to race well," said Rodden.
On the men's side, the pack is full of depth and experience, a change and
advantage compared to previous years.
"[The] upperclassmen are leading the way and they're prepared and have a
lot of experience. [They're] looking to make their mark," said Gondak.
Fifth-year senior Matt Fischer is returning to the Big Ten Championship as
one of the top athletes after posting a third-place finish in 2013. He is
accompanied by strong competitors like Brannon Kidder and Robby Creese.
"We as a team are no different than the other ones. We train the same and there's
no need to have expectations lower than any other team," said Fischer. "We have
some high goals. We're looking for one of those days where everyone has a great
race and there's no better place to do that than at [the Big Ten Championship]."
The teams will rely strongly on their confidence to help them get through
the weekend but they're determined to have a great time regardless of the
"I'm fantasizing about dream outcomes for the team," said Fischer with a
smile. "It's easy to be really engaged because it's a small [competitive] environment."
"It's the Big Ten meet, you're just looking forward to going out and watch
everyone go head to head," said Gondak.
The Big Ten Championship will mark its 100th anniversary on
Sunday morning at the Ashton Cross Country Course in Iowa City, Iowa. The women
are set to begin their 6k run at 10:45 a.m. CDT and the men will compete in an
8k run at 11:45 a.m. CDT.
By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The intensity meter is about to spike as the Penn
State cross country teams head to Indiana State University on Saturday to compete
in the 2014 Pre-National Invitational.
Penn State will face its toughest competition to date with 83 teams competing,
40 women's and 43 men's.
"This [meet] is a much larger competition approximately 80 teams will be
there this weekend," said head coach John Gondak. "We competed well this
weekend but I think we can be even better."
They will look to greatly improve their outing from the women's 13th
place and the men's 17th place finish in 2013. The team has two focuses
in their game plan.
Penn State is focused on running smart, emphasizing the importance of
beginning to race strong and ahead of the competition as it sets the tone for
the finish line.
"I hope that this weekend we can pack up and be further up into the pack.
When you have 40 teams, it's an amoeba of people that move through the course
and where you start is where you get stuck for a while," said Gondak.
The men's team is focused on improving from their previous race and staying
packed together from as early as the first 800 meters. They plan on using their
newfound depth as an advantage.
"We have a lot more experience. We run all the workouts together as a team.
The front-runners are there but the four, five, and six guys are up there and
running together, too," said sophomore Conner Quinn.
The women want to improve noting they hold the same mindset they always do;
"The mindset is to stay more as a pack. I just really want to the team to
do well," said junior Tori Gerlach.
"We had a solid showing last [meet] but it needs to be our best this weekend."
The course at the LaVern Gibson Championship is much larger and more
complex than the one at the Blue and White golf courses and it will be a big
test for the Nittany Lions' fitness.
"Indiana State has a dedicated cross-country course that hosts the national
championship meet and there's specific criteria that the course needs to be,"
The straightaways and turns are measured to specific standards with
straightaways and turns distanced farther or closer apart than the runners are
"It should provide us a good opportunity to compete well this weekend,"
"It's a very different course so I'm looking [forward to] seeing how other
teams stack up against each other," said Gerlach.
This weekend will be the teams' only chance to check out the course before
its possible return to Terre Haute in late November for the NCAA National
Ahead for the Nittany Lions is a whirlwind of competition as the Big Ten
Championships are next on the schedule. However, the team won't let the
pressure get to them.
"We will be seeing a lot of Top Ten teams at Pre-[Nationals]. We will see a
bunch of guys and teams that will be contending for the national title but
we're a good team, [too]" said Quinn. "We are taking it one meet at a time."
The women and men will begin at 11:00 a.m. and 11:35 a.m., respectively.
The women will run in a 6k Blue race and the men will compete in an 8k Blue
race in hopes of earning NCAA qualifying points.
By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Four coaches from four distinct parts of the world
made their way to Happy Valley this week to work with the Penn State track and
field coaching staff and student-athletes as part of the International Coaching Enrichment Certificate Program
ICECP, which begins at the University of Delaware and works through the Unites
States Olympic Committee, is a five-week intensive coaches' education program
that gives candidates from around the world an opportunity to attend lectures
and presentations in the United States for the benefit of their education and
Head coach John Gondak and company hosted Letitia Vriesde (Suriname), Andris
Eikens (Latvia), Faris Abdulla (Maldives), and Nigatli Worku (Ethiopia) for the
entire week sharing with them the track and field facilities, workout routines,
coaching strategies, and introducing them to Penn State student-athletes.
Unlike any of their past trainings, the coaches were able to do hands-on
work, which they eagerly described as their favorite experience thus far.
"What I see at Penn State I don't
think I will be able to see ever again," said Abdulla, a kids' coordinator for
an athletics association. "It is so complex and everything I see here is so
wonderful and I hope one day that we will get to this level. Our experience
here is different because we finally got hands on experience. This is more
practical and technical."
At their future stops, the coaches will be attending lectures and
presentations so they were opportunistic in their time here.
"Here we have shared with coaches their practical knowledge and that's very
different from attending lectures and doing projects," said Worku, a track and
field coach at the national and junior levels. "I have attended a lot of
training courses and this is by far the best one."
In their respective home countries, all of the coaches explained the lack
of organization between academics and athletics commending the way Penn State
intertwines the two. They explained that the structured system the University
implements is by far the best method to success they have seen.
"The first thing I noticed at Penn State is that they have a very good
system for athletes," said Abdulla. Their scholarships and the coaching
system...they have a systematic way of developing athletes. It is so hard to
convince people and parents [back home] that sport is a way of life."
The coaches are pleased to see that Penn State develops athletes to
represent themselves and also, their respective schools making athletics and
academics a source of pride, which is very different from their normality.
"You are not competing for your university and it's not part of a system," said
Vriesde, a coach at the Atlantic Club of the Future. "You go to school and,
then, if you like to run, you go and join a club."
They were also blown away by the facilities available to the program. It
became apparent to them why the student-athletes are so ambitious and motivated.
"The facilities available for the athletes make me think that there is no
reason not to make it to the world class [level]. It's very impressive because
back home we basically don't have any facilities, said Vriesde. "We run on
grass. It's good to see everything that is done for sport achievement."
"I'm very pleased to see how highly motivated all the athletes are to
compete here," said Eikens, a decathlon coach for his country's national team.
"There are very, very good facilities and options."
The Nittany Lions impressed them and even though they say it will be
decades before they see any change in their countries, they hope to one day
work with athletes, parents, and schools as one to shed light on the importance
of unity between academics and athletics.
The coaches have three more weeks left in the program and will travel to the
Olympic Training Center in Colorado upon their departure from State College.
By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
Pa. - The Nittany Lions are lacing up their race day shoes and heading west to
Notre Dame to compete in their first NCAA qualifying invitational of the season
on Friday afternoon.
It is still early
in the year, but with highly ranked teams like No. 12 New Mexico (women) and
the No. 10 BYU Cougars (men) in attendance, this weekend will be an opportunity
for Penn State to check out what its opponents have in store for this season's
quest to nationals.
Competing among 10
ranked teams, the Nittany Lion men's team (RV) will be competing for points
towards qualifying for the NCAA Championships in November.
Coming off an
individual victory at the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational three weeks ago,
fifth-year senior Matt Fischer is eager for the weekend noting that the invitational
is a chance for the Nittany Lions to start making their goals into realities.
"We want to be the
sharpest we've been all year," said Fischer. "[This meet] will be out first
real test when everyone will be going all out to get a good performance in and
give us a chance to score some points. It'll be a good test for us against
Princeton and if we can go head-to-head with those teams, it will be a big deal
The No. 30 women's
team will race at Notre Dame as one of three ranked teams competing. Motivated
by the competition, the teams will approach the race with the same focused and
determined mentality it is well known for.
"This [meet is at] a
bigger field and it's our first travel meet but other than that it is no
different, [we have the] same goals. Every race we are going in with the
mentality to beat the other teams," said senior Katie Rodden.
This weekend also
marks the beginning of the end for some Nittany Lions as five seniors,
including Fischer and Rodden, along with Leigha Anderson, Abigail Benson and Lauren Mills, will begin the journey to the NCAA Championships for the last
group's senior status is the least of their worries right now as the veterans,
like Fischer, are quietly focused on accomplishing some personal goals that
they hope will bring overall victory to the team.
"The biggest thing
for me is to make it the best year I've had and to keep improving," said
Fischer. "I have some personal goals in my head that I don't want to define
quite yet because we are early in the season but I think we are definitely in
the position to qualify [for nationals] as a team, which I've never had a
chance to do...that would be an awesome cap to my career here."
Head coach John
Gondak is looking forward to an excitement-packed weekend, as well ensuring
that the team has put in plenty of hard work over the last two weeks and is
confident they will see the results.
"We are [walking
into] a deep competition and it presents a different style of race," said
Gondak. "We are going to test ourselves. This is a turning point in our season.
These meets start to count now and we have to make sure that when we step out
there we are ready to compete."
While the teams know there are many things at stake beginning with this race, through
it all, they are most excited to do what they do best - have fun and run hard.
Penn State's first
race will be the women's 5k at 4:15 p.m. followed by the men's five-mile run at
By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State is many things. It is a research institution
and an athletic empire. It is history, tradition and culture.
For most people that come across this campus, though, of any age, any
background, or any position, Penn State is one simple thing - a dream come
Dreams, like many things in life, come true through hard work, dedication,
and a vast amount of time.
After eight years with the University and two long months as an interim,
John Gondak has been officially named the Penn State cross country and track
and field programs' head coach and he could not be more thrilled.
"Words can't describe what this means to me," said Gondak. "I'm thrilled
and honored to continue to work with the student-athletes here. To be the head
coach here is the pinnacle of my career to this point and I'm looking to
continue that and achieve greater heights here with the program."
Gondak comes with a long history of experience and a great deal of time on
He was a walk-on runner onto the Syracuse University cross country team where
he earned a scholarship and the accolade of team captain. After graduating as
valedictorian of the civil engineering program, he made his way through over a
decade of coaching and recruiting experience at Georgia Tech, Toledo, and Kentucky
before ending up in Happy Valley.
During his time with the NIttany Lions, Gondak has been remarkable.
During his eight years, he has been named United States Track and
Field/Cross Country Association (USTFCCCA) Mid-Atlantic Region Assistant Coach
of the Year five times, along with assisting to lead multiple Big Ten, NCAA,
and All-Regional championship appearances.
It's impossible to deny Gondak's passion, which flows right through him
when he speaks about the University and its athletic program.
"Every coach has that one university in mind that they would really love to
work for and for me Penn State has always been that," said Gondak. "Penn State
is the university I grew up with. I've been coming to athletic events here ever
since I can remember. Both my parents went to school here. They've been saying
great things about Penn State their whole lives."
His demeanor is confident and approachable, and he stands proudly and poised.
"I truly believe we have the best student-athletes in the world here at Penn
State. They're not only highly focused to achieve success athletically but
their academics [are] a huge piece to them," he said. "Going forward to watch
the athletes come through the program and move on to the real world is exciting
Fortunately for Gondak, the student-athletes seem to feel the same way.
"I can't think of anyone better for the position considering how much he cares
about the guys and the program," said senior Glen Burkhardt. "He does a very
good job on everyone's individual needs. He cares a lot and I think everyone
really likes him. That alone is big incentive to work hard."
Most days, Gondak can be found on the track or out on the running course.
The days when he is in his office sitting at his dark burgundy desk, he is
planning practice workouts and reflecting on previous races.
The future brings big changes for Gondak and his professional career but, as
for the program, he simply hopes to continue the excellence that is already
"We have a great platform for success that was built not only by Coach
[Beth Alford] Sullivan but also, by Coach [Harry] Groves and the coaches before
them. We want to continue to build on that but we've got this thing going in
the right direction right now with two of what, I think, could be the best teams
Penn State has ever had," Gondak said.
Next weekend, Gondak will travel with the cross country team, for the first
time as their head coach, to South Bend, Indiana, for their first NCAA
qualifying meet at Notre Dame. The team has already been thinking about it,
preparing, and working towards their goals every day.
As they continue to prepare for the competition, perhaps the program can
rest peacefully, indeed, they have chosen the most dedicated man for the job.
By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Every weekday afternoon she enters the Penn State
Multi-Sport Facility for practice. She is driven. She is quiet. She is sharp. She
Senior Katie Rodden is in the midst of her final season with the Penn
State women's cross country team but with the NCAA Championships still about
two months away, she is not ready to say good-bye to the Blue and White or
running quite yet.
Rodden has been a runner her entire life.
"I started running in the fourth grade," Rodden said. "In the seventh
grade, I was [still] running long distance and that's how it all started."
"In high school, I was one of the only ones on my team that was really
into running," Rodden added. "The best part about Penn State is that everyone
is into it too. We run seven days a week and at any time, I can find someone to
It's evident in her performance: She is driven.
In 2013, she finished in the top 25 for both the indoor and outdoor Big
Ten Championships, she was just shy of all-region status at the NCAA
Mid-Atlantic Regional, and she earned national experience as an alternate on
the Nittany Lions' NCAA-qualifying group.
She is sharp.
The Ardmore, Pennslyvania, native is an exemplary student. She maintains
a stellar 4.0 grade-point average, she has earned Academic All-Big Ten honors,
and she was a finalist for the NCAA Elite 89 Award.
The Elite 89 award is the NCAA's way of student-athletes who have
reached a pinnacle in his or her competitive sport as well as in the classroom.
The award is given to the student-athlete with the highest grade-point average
competing in any of the NCAA's 89 championships.
"I feel like I'm just like any other person," she said. "If you work
hard, it will all fall into place."
Rodden juggles running 70-75 miles per week and six days per week of
practice. She is finishing up a kinesiology major, she is a member of in the Athletic
Director's Leadership Institute, and she has a research job for Penn State's
"I do work pretty hard. I guess I don't have the most fun social life
ever but I enjoy doing well academically and athletically," she said.
She is ready.
Come November, when the Penn State cross country regular season has come
to an end, Rodden will be well on her way to yet another finish line - her
"Honestly, I try not to think about it being over," she said. "I love it
here and I'm really going to miss it,"
She has aspirations of attending medical school after her time at Penn State
"I've applied to [medical] schools and I'm just waiting for hear back," Rodden
said. "I want to something with sports medicine or orthopedics."
Through all of it, the academic honors, the medical school applications,
the research projects, running will always be a part of her.
"This is something that I'm just naturally good at and I definitely I
can't see myself just stopping," she said. "Maybe [after college] I'll get into
By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion cross country teams dominated on a
cool, rainy Saturday morning, as both the men's and women's squads took the
winning titles at the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational for the first time
The men finished with a total team score of 41, topping No. 8 Syracuse, which
finished second with 47 points.
The men's team had a big boost from senior Matt Fischer. Fischer scored an
individual victory, marking the second-straight year that a Nittany Lion has
scored the individual title. Glen Burkhardt (4), Robby Creese (8), and Wade
Endress (10) also played big roles for the team by finishing in the top 10.
"I think, finally, we can say that we have some really good distance depth
with this team and that these guys are ready to compete with some of the best
teams in the nation," said Fischer. "We wanted to go out there and have fun and
feel out the season a little bit. I think we did a great job as a team and I
couldn't be more excited about where everyone's [fitness level] is at."
The Penn State women finished with 27 points, defeating the No. 13 Syracuse
women who came in second place with a score of 38. The Nittany Lions had four women finish within the top 10 runners, including freshman Elizabeth Chikotas in third, senior Leigha Anderson (4), freshman Jillian Hunsberger (5) and junior Tori
"We really worked together to get us through the first half of the race and it
is a really cool experience to have teammates around you that make you believe
in yourself. We worked hard and pushed and I felt really good going into those
hills. [In those] last 1200 [meters] we were going all out," said Chikotas.
So far this season, the Nittany Lions have illustrated impressive teamwork.
Their pack running strategy has improved greatly and their confidence in
themselves and their team camaraderie is evident.
"On the women's side we had two freshmen in our top three, which is
outstanding. Jillian [Hunsberger] and Elizabeth [Chikotas] have come in and
they have been running and working hard and [today] they really showed that the
hard work they put in this summer has paid off," said interim head coach John
"Matt and the group ran as a pack through almost four miles of the race and it
turned into a last mile and a half sprint [between] us, Georgetown, and
Syracuse and our guys really responded well and pulled out a six-point victory.
It was a great day for them," Gondak said.
In attendance at the Invitational was former Penn State head coach Harry Groves
for whom the invitational is named after.
Groves remains an important part of Penn State and is definitely the program's No.
1 fan. He followed every race around in his golf cart cheering on the team and
telling stories about his time at the University.
"Harry and I set up the course every year so we spend a lot of time out here
together and he's still a very big, big part of Penn State Track and Field.
We're excited that he comes to events like these," said Gondak.
The Nittany Lions will be rigorously training for the next three weeks before
racing again on Oct. 3 when the team will travel to
South Bend, Indiana, for the Notre Dame Invitational to officially begin their
qualification races for the NCAA Championships.