By Zach Reagan, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion cross country program looks to continue to run with momentum from its early season success against a strong field of competition at Saturday's Greater Louisville Classic in Louisville, Ky.
When the Nittany Lions react to the starter firing off the pistol on the starting line Saturday, it will be their first competitive action in three weeks. After solid performances on back-to-back weeks in the Dolan Duals at Lock Haven, Pa. on Sept. 4 and Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational at home on Sept. 11, Penn State runners have using this "break time" as advantageous practice opportunities to build on their running craft.
The first meets of the season allowed the Nittany Lion runners to get a gauge on their fitness levels.
The Nittany Lions have built from each meet so far this season and look forward to the opportunity to run in a special meet like the Greater Louisville Classic. The idea for Penn State remains to perform better in each meet in order to run the best towards the end the season, when it ultimately matters the most. The cross country season is similar to sport of cross country itself, it's not a sprint, it's an endurance race. Individual goal setting has Penn State runners motivated for big meets like the Greater Louisville Classic.
The Greater Louisville Classic has been called the "Pre-Pre-Nationals" and one of meets to watch by the USTFCCCA. The "Pre-Pre-Nationals" term connects with the NCAA National Championships being hosted at the same site of E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Ky. on Nov. 21. Head coach John Gondak noted that this meet will be the first opportunity of the year for the Penn State cross country teams to earn points towards qualifying for 2015 NCAA Cross Country Championships in November.
That aspect makes the race even more of a special opportunity for the team. The opportunity to preview the course for the future could well be beneficial for Nittany Lion runners. "The goal is to run on the course, get a good feel for it and expose our student-athletes to it so, hopefully when we make the National Championships as a team later in November, we will have had some experience running on the course," said Gondak.
With a special meet comes unique training depending on the specifics of the meet. Gondak said the team trained like they normal but added in an additional component to simulate crowded conditions on a narrow stretch at the beginning of the race. With more teams in the meet, the start of the race can prove very impactful for the team in the race. "The only minor adjustment we've made to our training during this break in between meets is we've done some higher quality intervals, doing an interval or two at a faster pace to simulate what it's going to be like getting out in a field like this filled with 30 teams. Getting off the line will be important in positioning yourself early in the race this weekend," said Gondak.
An excited Gondak thought the team's practice went well. "It's been three weeks of fantastic training with the squad and I feel like we've put in the work necessary to go to Louisville and have a great performance this weekend," said Gondak.
Penn State will put their fast-paced training to the test against a quality field of teams on a "very flat and fast course" according to Gondak. The No. 19 Penn State women will compete against nationally ranked teams that include No. 6 Iowa State, No. 8 Michigan, No. 13 West Virginia and No. 23 Minnesota. Some of the competition on the men's side includes No. 4 Wisconsin, No. 8 Iona, No. 10 Michigan, No. 13 Mississippi, No. 22 Iowa State and No. 28 Eastern Kentucky.
As for the season thus far, Penn State swept both the women's and men's sides of the Dolan Duals with first place finishes turned in by junior Ean DiSilvio and senior team captain Tori Gerlach. DiSilvio earned Big Ten Athlete of the Week honors following his performance. DiSilvio has posted Penn State men's top finishes in both meets.
At the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational, Gerlach continued her great start to the season by leading the women's squad to a victory with another individual title. Her performance earned her USTFCCCA Division I National Athlete of the Week honors and Big Ten Athlete of the Week honors. She has led her women's team to a No. 19 ranking in the country and second in the Mid-Atlantic regional. The Nittany Lion men are ranked third regionally.
The Men's Gold 8k is scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m., while the Women's Gold 5k race is scheduled for a 10:15 a.m. start. The meet will be held at E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Ky.
After Saturday's Greater Louisville Classic, the Penn State men's and women's cross country teams will travel to Madison, Wisconsin Oct. 16 to compete in the Wisconsin Adidas Invite, before hosting the Penn State Open at the Blue-White Golf Course in University Park Oct. 17.