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.
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 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.
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.
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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.
By 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.
By 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.
By 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."
By 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.
By 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.
By 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.
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.
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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.
It 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."
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