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Commemorating 25 Years of Penn State and the Big Ten

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Penn State has won 92 Big Ten titles, including 21 in women's soccer (16 regular season).



By Tony Mancuso
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.

"The 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 time."

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 at-large teams."

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 classroom.

"From 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.'"

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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 immediately.

"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 hockey program.

"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 be relevant."

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 titles.

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 immeasurable."

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).

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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 sport."

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.

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In 2008, Penn State captured its third Big Ten title in football en route to a trip to the Rose Bowl.

 

While 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 national scene."

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 for itself.

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.


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The wrestling team began a string of four-straight Big Ten titles in March of 2011.





Follow 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 her races.

As most athletes would be, she is excited, nervous, and ready for the challenge.

"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 one."

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.

"I'm really 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 Valley.

"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 excited."

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 high. 

"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 their experience.

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 home outing.

"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

This weekend, 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."

Facing Opponents

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 Championship meet.

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 outcomes.

"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.

The Pack

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; to win. 

"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

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," said Gondak.

The straightaways and turns are measured to specific standards with straightaways and turns distanced farther or closer apart than the runners are used to.

"It should provide us a good opportunity to compete well this weekend," said Gondak.

"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 Championships.

Looking Forward

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).

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 career.

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.


 

Excitement Ahead for Nittany Lions at Notre Dame Invitational

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10326924.jpegBy Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, 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 for us."

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 time. 


However, the 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 5 p.m.

Gondak, Nittany Lions Look Forward to New Era

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10372381.jpegBy 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 true.

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 the track.

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 to see."

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 established.

"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.

Tenacity, Focus at Root of Rodden's Success

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10326919.jpegBy 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 is ready.

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 run with."

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 Noll Laboratory.

"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 collegiate career.

"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 has expired.

"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 marathons."

Nittany Lions Triumphant at Rainy Spiked Shoe Invitational

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10312949.jpegBy 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 since 2003.

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 Gerlach (9).

"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 Gondak.


"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.