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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.


Senior Nittany Lions to Compete Final Spiked Shoe Invitational

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10302695.jpegBy Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's and women's cross country teams will have a chance to check out their regional and ranked rivals on Saturday when the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational kicks off at the Blue-White Golf Courses.

The Spiked Shoe Invitational will bring in a host of competitors in the region, including Pittsburgh (men and women), No. 20 West Virginia (women) and No. 29 Georgetown (men), along with the No. 8 Syracuse men's team and the 13th-ranked Syracuse women's team.

While national championship qualifying doesn't begin until October, the teams are entering this weekend with their notable relentless attitudes led by seniors like Matt Fischer and Abigail Benson, who are anxious to participate in the Spiked Shoe invitational for their final time.

Benson finished eighth last year and is entering this weekend with a new mindset and some new goals.

"I am excited about the competition this weekend. I am definitely in a better mind set this year than last. I believe [coach John] Gondak is an awesome coach and [he is] really taking the time to make us better runners," Benson said. "I believe in his coaching and [I] think this is going to be a good year and now that I am a senior I believe in myself. [I] want to make this year a great one."

Although he sat out last year, this weekend marks Fischer's third and final time running the Spiked Shoe Invitational. At his last Spiked Shoe, Fischer had the highest individual finish and with four-plus years of collegiate running experience under his belt, he is sure to be one of the top competitors of the weekend.

"At this point I know the course in and out really well and I'm going to start it off the right way. We want to go out there and have fun and use this as a confidence booster," said Fischer. "It's a good chance to see where the other teams are at and I'm going to use this as a step to get closer to achieving the goals I have set out for myself and my team."

After a successful weekend at the Dolan Duals, interim head coach John Gondak is excited to see some of the team's top athletes out for the first time this season.

"We will be seeing the full lineup for the first time and I'm excited to see them go up against some top teams and see where they can finish," said Gondak. "I was really impressed with the men's competitive attitude and fight [last weekend]."

There is no doubt that the Nittany Lions will benefit from racing on their home course. Both Benson and Gondak believe that the team will be able to carry a strong advantage from the beginning.

"Knowing the course is really an advantage and can go a long way. Being able to race on the course during the year really helps prepare us for the regional meet," said Gondak.

"If we can all just stay in a pack and work together, I feel that talking to each other and working off each other we can truly do some amazing things," said Benson. "It will be a fast first mile but after that if we pack up and work it, it should be fun."

The women will begin their 6k race at 10 a.m. and the men will run at 10:45 a.m., with a 5.2 mile run.

Nittany Lions Look to Hold Nothing Back at First Race of Season

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10277173.jpegBy Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With all of the Penn State fall sports teams currently riding an 11-0 mark to start this season, the men's and women's cross country teams will look to continue the winning streak as they begin their 2014 regular season this weekend at the Dolan Duals in Lock Haven.


Last year, the women's team won its race with a perfect score, and the group enters the 2014 season ranked No. 29 according to the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.

Freshman Hannah Catalano will be one of the runners competing for the women's squad this weekend, marking her collegiate running debut. She is one of eight freshmen added to the roster this year that has spent the summer transitioning from high school and rigorously training for their first collegiate season.

"In college you do a lot more miles. I wasn't quite used to all the mileage and it was definitely a big jump," Catalano said. "It took a little bit to adapt to it but, now, after training all summer, I got used it and it feels like a routine."

She spent all summer training with veteran runners on the team in hopes of becoming a top-contributing factor.

"The seniors and juniors and all the upperclassmen have really set the pace," Catalano said. "They make sure we aren't trying to sprint past each other so that we are actually getting an effect rather than tiring ourselves out. They have really been leaders."

The upperclassmen have set the bar high for Catalano but she is fearless and prepared to give it her all.

"I'm so excited," Catalano said. "It'll be a lot different than our races in high school because there will be so much more competition even if it's a small race but I'm ready for what lies ahead."


On the men's side, five Penn State runners finished in the top 10 at the Dolan Duals last year.

Alongside an incredibly talented group of young men, freshman Will Cather will run this weekend for the Nittany Lions and he has goals set and resilience ready.

"I'm really excited for it. It's my first collegiate race and I'm going to give it my all out there," Cather said. "[I'm going to] try and place top 12 to make it onto the travel team this year and I'm just going to go for it."

Cather says he is in great shape after training all summer with the veteran runners who have been mentoring him through the transition.

"Camp went really well. The guys around me have really helped," Cather said. "They told me 'You're a freshman. Take it one step at a time and do what you can.' They've been great."

Both Catalano and Cather have one very important factor in common - they are both natives of the State College area and they have grown up their entire lives dreaming of one day running for Penn State.

To them, this weekend is more than just another race.

"[This is] a dream come true," said Cather. "[I grew] up watching [Penn State] and all the success they've had and [I] really want to be a part of this program and to be able to say that [I am] is incredible and I am so happy."

"My parents are so happy and so proud," said Catalano. "Penn State has always been my dream school and the fact that I get to run here just makes it so much better."

They both agreed on one specific thing - when they put on their blue and white for the first time, they're holding nothing back.

A resilient mentality that clearly radiates off of coach John Gondak, who will attend the Dolan Duals this weekend for the first time as the interim head coach for Penn State.

"I'm enjoying this challenge and I'm looking forward to leading the program this weekend," Gondak said.

This weekend is an important one for everyone in the program as it is the first time they are checking out their competition for the season as well as showing off what they've trained for all summer.

"We use [this meet] as a test to see where everyone's fitness is coming off the last few weeks of training and practice and to form a baseline for what we have to work on," he said.

While coach Gondak refers to the Dolan Duals as a low-key competition, he says it is equally as important as any other race for the success of the team.

"The mentality going in is 'do your best, give your best,' as long as they leave the course knowing they did their best, we will be happy," said Gondak.

The Nittany Lions will travel to Lock Haven University where they will show off their hard work beginning Friday at 6 p.m. for the women and at 6:30 p.m. for the men.

Barbour Eager to Lead Penn State Athletics

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10191947.jpeg
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The 18th of August cannot come soon enough for Sandy Barbour.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

 


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

Season Over But Shoes Still Tied

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fit for Fritz A Home Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

 Matt Fischer

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


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

-Head Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan

      The Women's Team

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

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

-Head Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan

      Competitive Conference

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

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

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

-Head Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan



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

 

      Recovery

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

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

-Head Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan

      Shift Gears

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

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

-Head Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan

      Increased Distance

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

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

-Head Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan



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

 

      Standout Runners

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

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

-Head Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan


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

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

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

-Head Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan

 

      Dark Horse Runners

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

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

-Head Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan


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

Standout Runner Leigha Anderson Just Going With The Flow

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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