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BLOG: Fall Sports Media Day in Review

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - While the Penn State Fall Sports season may have kicked off with women's soccer in action last week, Nittany Lion fans got a unique perspective from the annual athletics Fall Sports Media Day.

Coaches and student-athletes from seven different Penn State programs set to compete this fall met with members of the media to talk 2016 and their expectations for the upcoming year. 

Check out some highlights and links to videos, transcripts and extra coverage from today's event.

Men's and Women's Cross Country
In his third year at the helm of the program, head coach John Gondak highlighted his opening statement with high expectations for the Penn State Open, which comes to Happy Valley Friday, Oct. 14.

"We've got an outstanding group of teams coming in ... and it's going to be one of the premier competitions in the country again and we're going to continue to grow that," Gondak said of the upcoming Penn State open.  

 On both the men's and women's side, Gondak is excited to begin the season. The returning Big Ten Champion women's team will look to defend its title once again with three decorated leaders in Tessa Barret, Elizabeth Chikotas and Jillian Hunsberger.  The men's team will look to develop a young group, welcoming in some accomplished freshman for the season. 

Press conference video
Periscope session with Tessa Barrett

Happy Thanksgiving from Penn State Athletics

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - 'Tis the season for giving thanks, and the Penn State Athletics would like to take an opportunity to say thank you to the loyal fans on Thanksgiving.

As you sit down with family and friends to eat your traditional meal while the Lions and Cowboys host their annual Thanksgiving day home games, Penn State Athletics would like to thank you, the fans, for the unwavering support you give every team on campus.  Penn State's teams would not be the same without the greatest fans in college sports.

As a token of their appreciation, several student-athletes from teams on campus would like to say thank you and Happy Thanksgiving for the support you give them throughout the athletic season.

By Zach Reagan, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - A complete team effort highlighted by several milestone running performances helped the Penn State women's cross country team ultimately win its first Big Ten team title since 2009 in Sunday's 2015 Big Ten Cross Country Championships.

The No. 15 Nittany Lions reigned superior of the field of Big Ten teams and edged No. 2 Michigan by a team score of 58-53 at the Sydney R. Marovitz Golf Course in Chicago, Ill.

The outstanding achievement was made possible with phenomenal individual performances from both the young and veteran athletes on the team. Four women Nittany Lion runners finished in the Top 12. Senior team captain Tori Gerlach led the way for the Nittany Lions all year and she did it once again by finishing 4th in the field.

"This was Tori's best race of her career at a conference cross country championship," said second-year head cross country coach John Gondak.

Sophomores Elizabeth Chikotas (6th) and Jillian Hunsberger (9th) each posted Top 10 finishes. Rounding out the team's scoring was redshirt freshman Tessa Barrett with a 12th place finish and junior Julie Kocjancic with a 22nd place finish.

Gondak has been looking for runners that could round out the scoring all year and he got that this past weekend when it mattered the most.

"We had been content with how we had been running this year, we'd had some really solid performances at Louisville and Wisconsin but we knew we were better. What this does right now is it gives you a great boost of confidence because at this time of year most of your fitness you either have it or you don't. Now it's about believing in it, and when you can go out and pull off a victory like this it just drives home the fact that the student-athletes believe that they can go out and accomplish what they want to accomplish," said Gondak.

Gondak, recently named the Big Ten Women's Cross Country Coach of the Year, is proud of his team's efforts to win the championship. It's even more special to him because this conference championship is Gondak's first conference championship as head coach and ninth overall in his coaching career. Gondak is excited to keep moving forward with momentum in the postseason.

With an excellent Big Ten Championship performance, the Nittany Lion women broke into the Top 10 of the USTFCCCA national rankings this week for the first time since 2012 and continue to be ranked first in the Mid-Atlantic region.

The No. 10 Nittany Lion women look to continue building on success in the final two postseason races. They have a valuable time to recover and train for the next big race. That next step for the Nittany Lions is the Mid-Atlantic Regional in Princeton, NJ on Nov. 13. The last time, the women won the regional was in 2012 when they hosted the event at the home Blue-White Course.

Following the regional is the concluding NCAA Championships on Nov. 21 in Louisville, Ky at a course where the Nittany Lions have already ran this year.

By Zach Reagan, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - To coach cross country and track and field, it takes a special individual that has passion for the craft of running and the internal drive to get the most out of their student-athletes. Just a few months into her Nittany Lion coaching career, Angela Reckart has already left an impact on the State program.


Reckart commonly referred to as "Coach Reck" by student-athletes and staff is not new to the coaching ranks. She previously served as an assistant at the University of North Carolina before making the move to join Penn State head coach John Gondak's staff. In Reckart's time at North Carolina, she coached the cross country and track and field teams to historic seasons for the program. She's looking to bring that same continued success to Penn State.


The high-energy distance coach is a 2008 graduate of the College of New Jersey (TCNJ) and a former standout track athlete herself. During her time at TCNJ, she was a member of the track and field team and posted All-America honors seven times. She was a member of two national championship 4x400-meter relays. After her collegiate running career concluded, she started coaching at TCNJ by helping with the middle distance program. Then, she moved on to be a graduate assistant and volunteer coach at North Florida before her stay at North Carolina.


She combines her athletic experiences, her exercise science background and personable personality to coach up the Nittany Lion runners. Reckart's easy-going personality makes it easier for the team to connect with her.


Hailing from New Jersey, Reckart has always thought highly of Penn State and about how special it would be to coach at Penn State. Now that she earned the opportunity, she has shown that she is loving every second of it. Reckart has taken to social media on many occasions to display her Penn State passion and pride. Here are a few of her tweets since she's been on campus since July. 


Coach Gondak and Reckart have lead the cross country program to an impressive 2015 campaign. Both the men's and women's sides have worked hard at practice during the off-season and in-season to achieve this success. The women's team has been nationally ranked all season and is currently No. 15 in the USTFCCCA rankings.


Coming up for the Nittany Lions...


The Nittany Lions are preparing for post-season competition, which begins with the Big Ten Championships on Sunday, November 1 in Chicago.

By Zach Reagan, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State Open on Saturday morning marked the last time that the Penn State men's and women's cross country teams will run competitively at the home Blue-White Course this season. The meet was also the Senior Day home finale for seven senior Penn State cross country athletes.


Amidst hail-like precipitation falling, head coach John Gondak recognized the senior athletes during a ceremony after the conclusion of the men's and women's races. The five men honored were Glen Burkhardt (captain), Robby Creese, John Dugan, Wade Endress and Conrad Lippert. The two women honored were Tori Gerlach (captain) and Sarah Jane Underwood.  


Saturday morning's unseasonably cold weather conditions weren't optimal for running but the Penn State cross country program battled through the frigid, blustery conditions the best they could. It gave the Nittany Lions an experience to run in sub-par conditions which benefit them when they run in freezing cold postseason races in a few weeks.


A drizzle of rain fell on the women's athletes during the end of their race but it didn't seem to bother the No. 16 nationally ranked Penn State women who won the meet with a score of 37. The women were led by freshman Victoria Crawford who recorded a third-place finish for the Nittany Lion women. Right behind Crawford was junior Cara Ulizio with a fourth-place finish and sophomore Megan Hellman with a sixth-place finish to help the Nittany Lion women capture the victory.


On the other side, the men claimed a second-place team finish. Senior John Dugan led the men's team with a second-place individual finish. Other solid performances came from sophomore Timothy McGowan who finished fifth and senior Conrad Lippert who finished ninth.


Penn State's regular season running action has come to an end after a season filled with strong performances. Penn State cross country will look to keep the momentum going when it matters the most, in the postseason. The Nittany Lions have weeks to train before heading to Chicago, Illinois for the Big Ten cross country championships on Nov. 1. With success at the Big Ten cross country championships, the men's and women's teams can earn the opportunity to compete in the NCAA Mid-Atlantic regional and the NCAA Championships.

By Zach Reagan, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion cross country program looks to continue to run with momentum from its early season success against a strong field of competition at Saturday's Greater Louisville Classic in Louisville, Ky.


When the Nittany Lions react to the starter firing off the pistol on the starting line Saturday, it will be their first competitive action in three weeks. After solid performances on back-to-back weeks in the Dolan Duals at Lock Haven, Pa. on Sept. 4 and Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational at home on Sept. 11, Penn State runners have using this "break time" as advantageous practice opportunities to build on their running craft.


The first meets of the season allowed the Nittany Lion runners to get a gauge on their fitness levels.

The Nittany Lions have built from each meet so far this season and look forward to the opportunity to run in a special meet like the Greater Louisville Classic. The idea for Penn State remains to perform better in each meet in order to run the best towards the end the season, when it ultimately matters the most. The cross country season is similar to sport of cross country itself, it's not a sprint, it's an endurance race. Individual goal setting has Penn State runners motivated for big meets like the Greater Louisville Classic.


The Greater Louisville Classic has been called the "Pre-Pre-Nationals" and one of meets to watch by the USTFCCCA. The "Pre-Pre-Nationals" term connects with the NCAA National Championships being hosted at the same site of E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Ky. on Nov. 21. Head coach John Gondak noted that this meet will be the first opportunity of the year for the Penn State cross country teams to earn points towards qualifying for 2015 NCAA Cross Country Championships in November.


That aspect makes the race even more of a special opportunity for the team. The opportunity to preview the course for the future could well be beneficial for Nittany Lion runners. "The goal is to run on the course, get a good feel for it and expose our student-athletes to it so, hopefully when we make the National Championships as a team later in November, we will have had some experience running on the course," said Gondak.


With a special meet comes unique training depending on the specifics of the meet. Gondak said the team trained like they normal but added in an additional component to simulate crowded conditions on a narrow stretch at the beginning of the race. With more teams in the meet, the start of the race can prove very impactful for the team in the race. "The only minor adjustment we've made to our training during this break in between meets is we've done some higher quality intervals, doing an interval or two at a faster pace to simulate what it's going to be like getting out in a field like this filled with 30 teams. Getting off the line will be important in positioning yourself early in the race this weekend," said Gondak.


An excited Gondak thought the team's practice went well. "It's been three weeks of fantastic training with the squad and I feel like we've put in the work necessary to go to Louisville and have a great performance this weekend," said Gondak.


Penn State will put their fast-paced training to the test against a quality field of teams on a "very flat and fast course" according to Gondak. The No. 19 Penn State women will compete against nationally ranked teams that include No. 6 Iowa State, No. 8 Michigan, No. 13 West Virginia and No. 23 Minnesota. Some of the competition on the men's side includes No. 4 Wisconsin, No. 8 Iona, No. 10 Michigan, No. 13 Mississippi, No. 22 Iowa State and No. 28 Eastern Kentucky.


As for the season thus far, Penn State swept both the women's and men's sides of the Dolan Duals with first place finishes turned in by junior Ean DiSilvio and senior team captain Tori Gerlach. DiSilvio earned Big Ten Athlete of the Week honors following his performance. DiSilvio has posted Penn State men's top finishes in both meets.


At the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational, Gerlach continued her great start to the season by leading the women's squad to a victory with another individual title. Her performance earned her USTFCCCA Division I National Athlete of the Week honors and Big Ten Athlete of the Week honors. She has led her women's team to a No. 19 ranking in the country and second in the Mid-Atlantic regional. The Nittany Lion men are ranked third regionally.


The Men's Gold 8k is scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m., while the Women's Gold 5k race is scheduled for a 10:15 a.m. start. The meet will be held at E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Ky.


After Saturday's Greater Louisville Classic, the Penn State men's and women's cross country teams will travel to Madison, Wisconsin Oct. 16 to compete in the Wisconsin Adidas Invite, before hosting the Penn State Open at the Blue-White Golf Course in University Park Oct. 17.




By Zach Reagan, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's cross country team took advantage of running at their home course as they won the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational team title while senior Tori Gerlach won the individual title Friday.


A crisp, sunny day at the Blue-White Golf Courses didn't bother the team captain Gerlach who has won both events for Penn State this year on the women's side. She crossed the finish line victorious by a nine second margin. The finish line chute she ran through was lined with 297 American flags to honor the 2,977 lost on September 1, 2001 as it was the 14th anniversary of the tragic events.


The veteran runner knew the beginning of the race was all downhill then the last parts of the race were uphill. Gerlach used her mental edge to close in on the leader after having trailed by about 50 meters in the race. With about 200-400 meters to go in the race, Gerlach closed in and made the pass on the Syracuse athlete to earn the victory. She was really happy with the way she raced.


"I was very patient, our whole team was patient, and we ran really nicely. The first mile, the goal was to keep it pretty controlled, keep everyone together, and respond based off what the other team do. It's all downhill the first mile so it felt really easy, very controlled. One of the Syracuse girls made a move about a mile or two in and we made a huge surge after that and the race kind of started from there," said Gerlach.


Gerlach's performance was joined along with Elizabth Chikotas (3rd), Jillian Hunsberger (4th), Tessa Barrett (6th) and Greta Lindsley in the scoring (7th). Gondak's two freshmen runners, Greta Lindsley and Tessa Barrett impressed all in their first races in the blue and white.


"I was very excited to see (the freshmen) compete in their first race in a Penn State uniform today to round out scoring and come out with a good win over a team that was ranked higher than us coming into the meet," said head coach John Gondak.


The No. 23 Nittany Lions, the winner of the Harry Groves Invitational last year, scored 21 team points. Five Penn State runners finished inside the top-seven, to take the team title over No. 10 West Virginia, No. 17 Syracuse and Grove City.


Gondak was pleased with what he saw from his teams. "The women started things off and we executed the race plan perfectly," said Gondak.


On the men's side, junior Ean DiSilvio led the Nittany Lions with a seventh-place individual finish. He was Penn State's leading finisher in both meets this season.


Conner Quinn (10th), Wade Endress (11th), Colin Abert (12th) and Austin Pondel (23rd) were the men's finishers. Gondak was excited for four finishes in the top-12


The Penn State men look to be back to "full strength" soon as Coach Gondak will have Glen Burkhardt (team captain), Robby Creese and Tim McGowan in the running lineup.


Legendary long-time Penn State cross country and track and field head coach Harry Groves was in attendance Friday. The invitational is named after Groves. He cheered on the runners and followed the racing action from aboard a golf cart.


The Penn State women's and men's teams came away with team titles at last week's Dolan Duals at Lock Haven. After two meets, the Nittany Lions have built up the fitness levels necessary to be successful this season. It is important they continue to train to the best of their abilities for the bigger meets later in the season.


The Nittany Lions will be training for a few weeks until their next meet at Louisville, Ky. for the Greater Louisville Classic Oct. 3. The race at Louisville will be the first meet that will count towards NCAA Championship points and also serve as a beneficial course preview for the NCAA Championships, which is scheduled for Nov. 21.

By Zach Reagan, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's and women's cross country teams look to build on momentum from last week's meet into the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational at the Blue-White Golf Courses Friday.


The Nittany Lions proved that they were in fine running shape for the season's opener at Lock Haven for the Dolan Duals as the men's and women's sides both won team titles. Junior Ean DiSilvio and senior Tori Gerlach took the men's and women's titles respectively. DiSilvio capped off his winning performance with a move with about 800-meters left in the race to take the victory. DiSilvio capped off his week with Big Ten Men's Cross Country Co-Athlete of the Week honors.


"Last week's meet was a good competitive effort for us," said Coach John Gondak. "It really showed us where everyone is at this point in the season."


"It allowed us to continue to prescribe to the students what their training should be and how they need to continue to improve their fitness."


The Dolan Duals women's winner Tori Gerlach is a prime example of an athlete continuing to improve her fitness. It was a different offseason for her, but in a positive way.


"It was the first summer I really got to train, usually I'm sick or hurt," said Gerlach. "I actually got to train the right way."


The team captain from Perkasie, Pa. picked up right where she left off. Gerlach impressed with an excellent 2015 outdoor track season. She posted a pair of personal-best performances in the NCAA East prelims to advance to the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and the 5,000-meter run. She finished seventh in the 5,000-meter run and seventh in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. At the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, Gerlach finished 10th in the 5,000-meter run (16:00.28) and 14th in the 3,000-meter steeplechase (10:14.79). She was also selected as a first-team All-Big Ten selection and second team All-American.


Gerlach says she brings experience as her main attribute to the team. She is the leader of a relatively young group on the women's side. She was impressed with how the team as a whole raced after not competitively racing in months. She looks to continue her success at a "pretty challenging course" in her opinion


"We (the upperclassmen) know all the little tricks," said Gerlach about the advantages of racing at Penn State's home course.


Gerlach said the team hasn't been on the course yet this year but a lot of the older girls know what it's like. As a senior leader Gerlach has a lot of course knowledge to pass on to her younger teammates.


The Big Ten Women's Cross Country Freshman of the Year Elizabeth Chikotas finished in third-place in last year's Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational. Fifth-year senior Matt Fischer won the individual title in the men's race. Penn State won both team titles in the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational on a cold rainy day against several nationally ranked teams.


The Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational is no ordinary meet for Penn State cross country athletes. This event is named after long-time Penn State coach and 2001 USTCA Hall of Fame inductee, Harry Groves. Groves spent nearly forty years at the helm of the men's program, beginning in 1968 until retiring at the conclusion of the 2006 track and field season. Groves was named national Coach of the Year on five occasions, and is a 26-time Regional Coach of the Year honoree. Throughout his coaching career, Groves coached 11 American record holders and 21 national champions. On the international level, 14 Groves-coached athletes made Olympic teams. Groves has also made numerous international appearances of his own, including a trip to Barcelona, Spain, where he served as an assistant coach of the 1992 Olympic staff. 


Also, the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational gives Penn State the opportunity to compete with some of the best cross country programs in the country on their home course. The field for this year's Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational includes nationally ranked teams such as No. 3 Syracuse (men), No. 10 West Virginia (women) and No. 13 Michigan (men).


The Nittany Lions will start the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational with the women's 6k at 5:30 p.m. and the men's 5.2 mile race at 6:15 p.m. Before the collegiate races, the high school competitions will begin with high school girls starting at 4:00 p.m. followed by high school boys at 4:45 p.m.


After the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational, the Nittany Lions will be training for a few weeks until their next meet at Louisville, Ky. for the Greater Louisville Classic Oct. 3. The race at Louisville will also serve as a beneficial course preview for the NCAA Championships, which are scheduled for November 21.



By Zach Reagan, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - John Gondak is thrilled to be starting his second regular season as Penn State cross country head coach and ninth season overall with the program.


The Doylestown, Pa., native served as an assistant coach for six years, two years as an associate head coach and two months as the interim head coach for the Nittany Lions.


The title of head coach didn't suddenly change the way he approached coaching. He wants to establish Penn State as one of the best cross country/track & field programs in the country.

"Just because the title is different than five years ago, we still have the same overriding goal which is to provide the best experience for our student-athletes," said the Coach Gondak. "It's a great honor to be a head coach at Penn State University. It's a place that has tremendous passion for their students, tremendous passion for their athletes."


Coach Gondak has mentored many standout athletes throughout his tenure on the Penn State coaching staff. He has coached 19 first team All-Americans, 22 Big Ten Champions, five Big Ten Freshman of the Year honorees, and three sub-4:00 milers. Also, under the Gondak's tutelage, athletes have broke 20 records. On the track side, Gondak has been a part of five Penn Relays victories recorded by Penn State.


The coaching staff uses observation and one-on-one communication to get the maximum performance out of his athletes. New assistant coach Angela Reckart, a former assistant at North Carolina looks to help Gondak take the program to the elite level.


Gondak is very excited to get the chance to coach a talented group of runners once again for the 2015 fall cross country season.

"We return a lot of our student-athletes from last year who had fantastic seasons," said Gondak. "I believe they put us in a great spot to have a fantastic 2015 fall."


The women's cross country side led by senior captain Tori Gerlach, enters the 2015 season ranked No. 23 in the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) preseason poll along with a fourth ranking in the Mid-Atlantic Region. Gondak believes the women have a solid blend of youth and experience with four returners from last year's NCAA championships team. He also that the women have potentially one of the best top-four's in the country.


For all cross country teams, the fifth runner is mightily important in order to score well. Gondak calls the fifth runner the "hero" and he's looking for a fifth runner which can come from a group of about five women.


The men were selected third at the regional level who are led by fifth-year senior captains Glen Burkhardt and Wade Endress. The men have depth with a core of veterans this season. Gondak believes 12 to 14 individuals on the men's side could finish anywhere in the top-seven at meets. "With the returners we have, some incoming freshmen, I think we should have a really good team," Burkhardt said at media day.


The Dolan Duals are the traditional opening meet for the Nittany Lions. Gondak said that his group of runners are ready for the challenge against Lock Haven, a quality Division II cross country program.


The program has fared well at the Dolan Duals in previous years. Last season, both teams earned team titles. The men posted an overall score of 16 points, one point shy of a perfect score. The women swept first-place through fifth-place for a perfect score of 15 points.


Gondak plans to utilize this opportunity for his athletes 'to get the rust off'. Also, it will set the stage for where the student-athletes are physical fitness wise. Athletes on the team do their own workouts during the offseason before coming together, which can be difficult to judge progress.


"You don't really know how everyone's going to do until you start racing," said senior women's captain Tori Gerlach at media day.


This opening meet will be important for the coaching staff to see what the team may have to work on in the coming weeks in preparation for bigger meets.


Running in the Dolan Duals is an opportunity for Coach Gondak to see what the younger runners can do. Gondak said a handful of freshmen from both the women's and men's sides will run in their first collegiate race. Some may race unattached for NCAA eligibility reasons.


"Lock Haven is a flat and fast course," said Gondak. "It's a nice course to open on."


The runners will lace up their spiked footwear for a running distance will be shorter than normal. The women's 4K run starts at 5:30 p.m., and the men's 6K starts at 6:15 p.m.

VIDEO: 2014-15 Year in Review with Sandy Barbour

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - talks with Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour to review a superb 2014-15 season for Penn State Athletics.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony