By Zach Reagan, GoPSUsports.com 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 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
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
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.