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Champions Visit State Capitol

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HARRISBURG, Pa. - Penn State hit the state capitol today for an afternoon of recognition, celebrating Nittany Lion conference champion student-athletes and head coaches following a record-setting 2016-17 season both in competition and in the classroom.

Joined by select head coaches and staff members as well as student-athletes, the group toured through the Pennsylvania House and Senate, stopping in for lunch with Sen. Jake Corman in his office. Penn State then made its way to the floor of the Pennsylvania Senate before remarks from Corman, welcoming the group to the state's capitol following a few early proceedings.

Penn State then made its way to the floor of the Pennsylvania House, which holds all 203 members, including Pennsylvania's Rep. Mike Hanna, Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, Rep. Rich Irvin and Rep. Scott Conklin, who read a resolution to again welcome and congratulate the Nittany Lions on an all-around successful season, one that drew a standing ovation from the members on the floor. 

"I want to congratulate the teams for not only what they do on the field but what they do in the community, the outreach they give, the coaches who oversee them," Conklin said. 

Nittany Lion director of athletics Sandy Barbour only echoed the all-around success in her remarks in the main rotunda later in the afternoon, noting that the individuals surrounding her representing a combined 2016-17 total of nine conference titles, among a few other crowns, are only one part of the story.

Penn State was recently slated fourth in the first spring update of the Learfield Directors' Cup standings following a year that saw seven Nittany Lion squads earn Big Ten Championships or tournament titles in seven sports, the most of any league institution and the third-highest total in school history.

As head coach Cael Sanderson brought instantaneous cheers from the floor of the Pennsylvania house upon his introduction, the room was reminded of Nittany Lion wrestling team's stunning second consecutive NCAA Wrestling Championship, marking its sixth in the last seven years, with five individuals earning NCAA titles along the way.

As Barbour pointed out though, the impact of the Blue and White extends much further than excellence in competition.

Nearly a month ago, a school record 114 Penn State student-athletes graduated, bringing the 2016-17 total to 142, with more students on track to cross the stage in August. Penn State also revealed its 89 percent NCAA Graduation Success Rate this year, which stands just one point below its all-time program mark. 

"Penn State student-athletes, not unlike their student colleagues and their servant hearts, have dedicated themselves to service," Barbour said. "Our student-athletes served over 6,200 hours of community engagement this last year. This comprehensive excellence is embraced by our Penn State and Pennsylvania community. It's truly Penn State's point of difference. It has historically motivated a state and a community, connected passionately to each and every one of our programs and each and every one of our student-athletes who wear the Blue and White."

Representative of just a small piece of a variety of community engagement close to Penn State student-athletes is THON, a beloved annual event that encompasses the entire university and Happy Valley community.

Led by the efforts of the Penn State Student Athlete Advisory Board, SAAB raised $59,679.49 for THON in 2017, which ranked third among the 400-plus general organizations represented. Surging past a fundraising goal of $50,000, the 2017 figure is SAAB's second-largest total in the history of the organization, adding to a career total of $680,000, all for THON and the Four Diamonds Fund, with four Penn State student-athletes joining the 703 dancers on the floor this year.

Among those dancers this year was women's soccer's Megan Schafer, a Big Ten Champion from Langhorne, who joined the group today for her second trip to state capitol, but first as a Nittany Lion. 

"A couple of years ago I got recognized for winning a state championship, so I think it's pretty cool coming back at the collegiate level to get recognized for our hard work all season," Schafer said. "I think it's really cool everything that people put together just to recognize us today."

Prior to Penn State, Schafer scored the overtime game-winner to lead Neshaminy high school (also the alma mater of Penn State head football coach James Franklin) to a Pennsylvania state title.

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The entire group of Nittany Lion coaches and student-athletes were treated to a personal meeting with Gov. Tom Wolf, who stopped by the steps of the main rotunda to greet the champions before heading back to Happy Valley.

Lions Make B1G Championship History

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State made history Sunday afternoon, as the Nittany Lion men were crowed Big Ten Outdoor Champions, earning their first Big Ten title in program history.

Carrying the momentum of a standout opening day throughout the three-day event, the Penn State men finished 14 points ahead of second-place Ohio State (103) to lock up the title.

Hosting the event for the first time since 2007 and just the third time in program history, the Nittany Lions wasted no time setting the tone, with three of four day one silver medalists coming on the men's side. 

"This has been, personally, a date that I've had on the calendar for three years," Penn State head coach John Gondak said. "When we first found out we were going to host in 2017, it was a goal to host a great championship and have two teams that can contend."

By the end of the first day, even with some unpredictable weather, the Penn State men had rocketed to the top of the team standings with nearly double the team score of second-place Nebraska and Wisconsin. 

"They just went out and from the first day, scoring 40 points in three events, which is something we weren't expected to do, and just jumped out to a big lead like that," Gondak said. 

Penn State powered through day two, highlighted by a school record performance in the long jump. Fueled by the energy of the crowd, Malik Moffett joined an elite group with a jump of 26'-3" (8 m) to surpass a school record set by David Coney in 1985.

It wasn't until just after the record-setting gold medal performance that Moffett realized he had etched his name into program history.

"I found out and my coach picked me up and I thought, did that really happen, I'm in the eight meter club," Moffett said. "It's a nice club to be in and not too many people can say that so I'm pretty psyched about it."

Having already qualified for the 200-meter finals a day prior, sprints had actually been the focus of the senior Nittany Lion leading up to the weekend.

"Really I stopped doing a lot of long jump stuff and focused more on sprints," Moffett said. "I only really practiced long jump two times out of the week and I don't know why, but I guess it worked. 

A first team All-Big Ten selection, Moffett, wasn't finished, claiming the 200-meter title with a time of 19.87w to ascend to the top of the all-condition standings in program history. 

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Penn State also saw fellow first team All-Big Ten selection Isaiah Harris pour on the points, extending his stretch of dominance in the 800-meter race. With a time of 1:49.68, Harris earned his fourth consecutive Big Ten title, having now won each indoor and outdoor titles consecutively across the last two years.

"Every time I come to the conference meet I know there's going to be good competition out there so it means a lot to go out there and defend a title against that many good guys," Harris said.

Despite windy conditions, Harris wasn't fazed by the snippets of unfavorable weather throughout the weekend. 

"It was really windy out there today so I wanted to tuck in behind someone and let them break the wind for me and then the last 250 I just went for it," Harris said.

Just two of a wealth of key performances and top contributors across the weekend, it's the entire team effort that has Gondak most impressed at the end of the weekend.

"It's obviously a goal of ours to try and win a men's and a women's title on the same day, we came a little bit short on the women's side today, but the men came through and it's a testament to them and their passion and their competitiveness," Gondak said.

On the women's side, Dannielle Gibson was among two to earn gold on the final day of competition. With a 45'-1.75" (13.76m)w mark, Gibson locked up the triple jump title to help propel the Nittany Lion women to a third-place finish in the final team standings. 

Relying on training and preparation, pure joy took over as Gibson peered to the results to find out she'd be taking home the title.

"It was an exhilarating feeling, nothing like it to be honest," Gibson said. "More so not proud for myself, but proud to contribute points to my team, that was the major thing I was focused on so it was a wonderful feeling." 

Perhaps no feeling is greater than the sight of the Nittany Lion men's team hoisting their first Big Ten trophy in program history, circled by the support of the entire men's and women's team.

"Seeing the guys able to make history right here on our own track, it's like a whole different level," Gibson said.

For Moffett and Harris, it's the culmination of years of hard work, especially for those in their final season in the Blue and White. 

"The first time we came to this facility Penn State said, they've never won a Big Ten title and they've always kept on hammering us about it," Moffett said. "To make it reality is just amazing."

Reach Arielle at ans26@psu.edu or follow on Twitter @arielle_sargent

By Alyssa Palfey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Most people know the Penn Relays (or Carnival) as the oldest and largest track and field meet in the United States, but for most athletes, including the Penn Staters that will be competing their this week, it's the most fun meet to compete at.

 

Junior high jumper Megan McCloskey has been competing at the Penn Relays for twelve years now, starting when she was in fourth grade. Competing at this widely attended track meet has made it one of her favorites to go to.

 

"I think it's just such a special meet because it's one of the only times in the year that a track meet turns into a carnival as they say," said McCloskey. "It's not often that you can fill the stands to watch a track meet, which is exciting."

 

McCloskey has made many memories over the past decade competing at this meet, but hopes that this year's meet with add a new memory of winning another Penn Relays medal or even a Penn Relays gold watch. When winning a college individual event at the Carnival, athletes receive a gold watch rather than a gold medal.

 

Junior sprinter Xavier Smith was familiar with the Penn Relays before competing as a Nittany Lion as well. Smith competed with his high school during his junior and senior year and got to experience the fun of seeing all the different teams compete.

 

"Going there, it was very different than your average high school meet or your average invitational. You have the Jamaican section, the American section going crazy in the big stands there. It was just a great environment," said Smith.

 

On the coaching end of competing at Penn Relays, Associate Head Coach Erin Tucker says it's no different than training for a regular outdoor meet. The women compete on Thursday, so they have one less day to prep than men, but for the athletes it really doesn't differ as far as regular pre-meet training.

 

"Penn Relays is just another track meet that we have to prepare for," said Tucker.

 

Tucker views the Penn Relays as a prep meet for their bigger meets coming in the future.

 

"In my mind, I look at five track meets that are really important every year: The Indoor Nationals and Indoor Conference meet, the Outdoor Nationals, the Outdoor First-Round Meet and the Conference Meet. Other than that, every other track meet we go to is about having fun and is about prepping for those five meets," said Tucker.

 

The Nittany Lions will compete at the Penn Relays starting Thursday, April 27 and will continue competing throughout the weekend. 

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By Alyssa Palfey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - "I came on my official visit September of my senior year, and I didn't really have a choice at that point, I just loved it so much," said junior Megan McCloskey when talking about her college decision process.

 

McCloskey is now currently the No.2 all-time high jumper in Penn State outdoor history with a mark of 5'-11.50" (1.82m), but she didn't start her track career with jumps. McCloskey has been involved with track since she was little, where she started competing in meets as young as six years old.

 


Photo provided by Megan McCloskey

"I started competing in track when I was in kindergarten, and it was more just a fun thing that I did with my brother and sister. We would just do summers and all-comers meets, then through my grade school program, which is Catholic Youth Organization, we started in first grade where it was just running the 100 and stuff like that. That's kinda where I got started, and then I've been doing it ever since."

 

"I started to practice high jump a little bit in fourth grade because we needed to score points and no one ever did high jump, so it was just something I found and I wasn't very good at it. In fifth and sixth grade, I started to realize that I had some skill in it and then I started doing AAU track and field outside of my grade school track."

 

Coming to Penn State wasn't necessarily in McCloskey's plans, but having a family history with the school and having a great recruitment weekend made her decision pretty clear.

 

"My mom ran track at Penn State, which was obviously always in the back of my mind. My dad played football here, so there was definitely a Penn State tradition in my family. Since I was little, I thought I would never go to Penn State because I didn't just want to follow them. I looked at a bunch of different places, mostly local because I didn't want to stray too far from home because I'm super close to my family and I love home."

 

"I came on my visit and we did the whole recruiting weekend and I stayed with my host, which was Kasey Kemp and she was awesome. I knew immediately that the other schools I was talking to I was going to have to let them know sooner than later because I fell in love with Penn State when I got here," McCloskey said  "The team aspect that I felt when I was on campus that weekend was different than any other school I went to. I could tell that it was a full team rather than just individuals. They were all friends and I felt welcomed in very fast."

 

McCloskey is in her junior year and has competed in five Big Ten Championships during her time here. This past indoor Big Ten Championship, McCloskey placed 2nd while the girls team won the gold.

 

"The Big Ten Championships indoor this past season has been my favorite memory as a whole," the junior said.  "We knew that we were in a good spot going into the championship, but we didn't know exactly where that would leave us at the end of the weekend. After I finished high jumping the second day of Big Tens, which is the final day, I didn't really know where our team was at I just knew everyone was having really good performances. I could feel the energy and then someone told me we could actually do this and all of a sudden, we had two races left to watch and then they announced our name. We knew as soon as the relay was over that we were Big Ten Champs."

 


Photo provided by Megan McCloskey

"It was with a special group of girls that were on the same page the whole season. We were working together and being able to win something with those people, especially our seniors before they graduate, was just so special to me."

 

McCloskey still has a lot more planned for the rest of her outdoor season and the rest of her time at Penn State. Her main goal is to make it to Nationals this upcoming summer.

 

"I definitely have some big goals. I'm looking to be a Big Ten Champ individually, on the top of the podium, that would be my biggest goal and to qualify for Nationals in Eugene this June. I haven't gotten there yet, I have gotten to the prelims, but I would love to be there, and I think that's the ultimate stage for a Division I track athlete."

 

As well as making it to Nationals, McCloskey hopes the team will be outdoor Big Ten Champions the first weekend in May.

 

"I want to repeat. I want it so badly for us to be able to win a Big Ten championship on our track at home outdoors. I think it would be even cooler if we could do it with our boys. That's my goal for our team as a whole, I'm really hoping that the two of us come home victorious on that day in May."

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By Alyssa Palfey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - "It wasn't much of a decision," said junior Xavier Smith when choosing to come to Penn State back in 2014.

 

Smith's journey was unlike any usual track athlete. He got a late start, only beginning his track career his junior year at Daniel Boone High School.

 

"I first started track my junior year in high school. It was a little late, I started because I needed to get away from football a little bit," said Smith.

 

Smith wanted to join his brother and give track a try, where he originally wanted to be a thrower.

 

"I decided track was a good option.  My brother ran track in high school so I figured I'd be alright at track because he was pretty good too," said Smith. "I ran all sprints, but I actually wanted to throw because I didn't feel like running, but I did one throwing practice and that wasn't for me."

 

Smith grew up in Douglassville, PA, a community in Amity Union Townships that is little under three hours away from University Park. He knew that Penn State would be his first choice for college from the beginning.

 

"Penn State was always one of my favorite colleges growing up being from Pennsylvania and just watching football games here every weekend. I always wanted to come to Penn State," said Smith.

 

Although he was set on coming to Penn State, he wasn't sure if it would be a possibility after he decided he wanted to pursue track in college.

 

"I didn't know if I was going to be able to come to Penn State because I wanted to do track in college. Then when I started to get better results from my races, I decided it was worth a shot to try track at Penn State and see if I could get on the team there. I contacted them and a week later I came to visit, and a few weeks later I signed for Penn State."

 

Now, Smith is in his third year at Penn State and he knows he made the right decision going to school here. 

 

"Penn State has been great, it's been all I could ask for. Everyday it's definitely something new and I like that. I like the people here, I like the coaches here, I like the atmosphere. Everyone is just a big, big family. It's a really good environment."

 

Smith is now a lead sprinter for the track and field team, where he runs the 60-meter dash, 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash and the 4x100 and 4x400-meter relays. He has already made a presence at the Big Ten Championships.

 

This past Big Ten Indoor Championships, Smith was the 60-meter dash champion (6.66) and he finished fourth in the 200-meter dash clocking in with a time of 21.07. Smith was also a part of the school record-breaking 4x4 relay team along with sophomores Dan Chisena, Sam Reiser and Isaiah Harris (3:04.80).

 

"My favorite Penn State memory would definitely be winning the 4x4 at the Big Ten Indoor Championships this year. It was awesome to see my teammate, Isaiah (Harris) catch the guy at the end and bring us a Big Ten gold medal."

 

With outdoor season underway and still another year left of competing, Smith is looking to accomplish a lot more during his time here.

 

"I have another year, so I definitely want get more Big Ten medals, that's the first thing. I want to get a team Big Ten Championship, and at the end of that I want to be an All-American."

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By Alyssa Palfey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With outdoor season well underway, Penn State is finally experiencing the outdoor season weather along with it.

 

The team spent some time out on their newly renovated track this past week since the weather was nice here in Happy Valley, and is feeling good after experiencing the smoothly surfaced track.

 

"It's been nice for the long throwers to be able to actually get on the runway and in circle and do what they want to do," said head coach John Gondak. "For the runners, the adjustment is the first time you do a workout out there the track seems so big as compared to what we are used to in here. Sometimes they feel a little sluggish on it, but as you can see from our first two competitions where they vast majority of the people competing weren't on an outdoor track yet, it didn't seem to affect them very much at all."

 

Throws coach, Lucais MacKay, feels that being able to finally practice on the outdoor track has been a positive boost for the throwers attitudes and performances.

 

"Being out on the outdoor track has been much, much more exciting. It's fun to finally see things go far. Athletes are in a little better mood and you get more feedback, just being outdoors in the circle," said MacKay. "So, they were a little bit behind the curve, with only have two or three practices outside before Arizona State, but now we've had a solid twelve days outside so I think they're finally coming into form."

 

For senior javelin thrower Michael Shuey, this transition to being able to throw outdoors isn't something new.

 

"It's a little difficult because you kind of get content just doing drills over and over again, you don't really get to see how the javelin is flying or anything like that, but coming off the injury it was nice to break everything down and not worry about distance. It was a nice transition period, but I've done it five times now so I was used to it at this point," said Shuey.

 

"After the first meet, I'm glad to get that out of the way. I was really nervous. I'm just excited to go to this next meet and do what we've been working on all of indoor season and now even more with being outside again, and I'm excited to settle in and throw how I know I can throw," he added.

 

Along with the throwers, different events experience different obstacles when transitioning into outdoor season. For pole vaulters, wind becomes a major factor with how they approach their jump. Junior vaulter, Hannah Mulhern explains just how important it is to get some practice in an outdoor setting before competition.

 

"Being able to finally practice on our outdoor track has been something really great because the outdoor season for us as pole vaulters brings a whole new element into place, which is wind," said Mulhern. "It's really important that we get experience practicing with that outdoors and get used to it and get used to working through and getting used to that new element so that we're prepared for any kind of weather condition anywhere we go."

 

The Nittany Lions will be traveling to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to compete in the Battle on the Bayou this Saturday, April 8th.  With the long road ahead, Gondak is happy with how the men and women are performing at this point in the year.

 

"I'm thrilled with where we are right now. We had a lot of things go right at both Florida Relays, Arizona State and Stanford," said Gondak. "Looking ahead, this is a great weekend for us at LSU to go into a scored meet and compete against three of the best teams in the country, so I'm excited to see our student-athletes go out there and compete."

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By Alyssa Palfey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Most success of teams is measured by their performances and placing at meets and competitions, but rarely anyone ever thinks of all the behind the scenes work that contributes to this success.

 

Penn State track and field's Director of Operations Coordinator, Laura Loht, is the person who makes sure all the details most don't think about are all taken care of before, during, and after traveling to meets.

 

"My job when we go on the road is literally get the team from point A, which is the indoor track, to point B, wherever we go," said Loht. "Bus trips are way easier than when we fly. It's somewhat a challenge when you're checking in 60-80 people with small pole vaulters carrying their poles and javelins in oversize at an airport that is packed on a Wednesday or Sunday morning."

 

"Getting home with traveling like a big team like that, we're rarely traveling out of State College. We're most likely bussing to Pittsburgh or Baltimore, which can be tough especially when you're coming home and you're getting to Baltimore at 9:30 at night and have to get everyone on the bus and positive," Loht said.  "Even though we're getting home at 1 a.m., making sure they get to class the next day."

 

Loht is a former Nittany Lion, where she earned All-American honors three times and still holds the javelin school record. Having all this track and field experience makes Loht's perfect for the role in operations.

 

"We just get there early and try to make sure everyone is staying relatively positive and whatnot.  If we're going somewhere that's warm, I usually take tents along. When we get there, I have to make sure that we coolers and fluids, so waters and Gatorades," said Loht, who also makes sure she has extra supplies incase any athletes forget something back home.  

 

Loht is the one of charge of creating the itineraries for the team and coaches, where she goes into greater detail about the travel information, meet schedule and dress code. She even includes some hydration tips from athletic trainer, Michael Gay, to make sure the athletes are staying hydrated as they travel to compete in warmer weather.

 

"Trust me during outdoors because we live in central PA, and it was snowing two weeks ago, we chase warm weather. They go from training in 30-degree weather to Arizona State where there's 70-degree weather," said Loht.

 

"It's a change, so our training staff does an awesome job of preparing the kids and telling them what they need to be doing as far as fueling their bodies in order for them to have the best day they can have when they step on the line or into the field."

 

Athletic trainer Michael Gay is heavily involved with the behind the scenes work as athletes prepare to do their best on meet day.

 

"Meet day is event preparation and then pre and post-event recovery. Depending on the day, a kid might have a time trial at the beginning of the day then there's some recovery time and then they have to compete again. That can involve maybe getting time for a meal in between or a hydration status or a soft tissue massage, so it's a lot about managing the between," said Gay.

 

With the different events that make up a track team, they all have different areas they must focus on to recover. Distance runners usually are more energy-based and require a lot of refueling and rehydration. Throwers use their max-effort upper body while sprinters create more damage from fast running.

 

"When a kid races, they create a lot of damage when they run. The whole idea is to try to manage that inflammation, manage the soft tissue, so they can give you maximize effort later. It's different for each kid," said Gay.

 

Most importantly, communication within the team, coaches, and staff is what makes the team run smoothly and successfully during competition weekends.

 

"A lot of it is communication. If something comes up, it changes the complexion of the meet. All of sudden a kid struggles in a 100 or something comes up, someone will have replaced them if they have other events. We have to stay on top of it and communicate with everybody and coordinate with all the athletes and coaches," said Gay. 

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By Alyssa Palfey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - "You don't really think about it," said head track and field coach John Gondak about the transition from indoor to outdoor season. "You just come in and you get your work done."

 

The Nittany Lion track and field team finished up their indoor season two weeks ago with the NCAA Indoor Championships and have been transitioning into outdoor season since. The team will be traveling to Arizona this upcoming weekend for their first outdoor meet of the season.

 

Although Penn State's outdoor track has been undergoing renovations since the fall, the transition to outdoor hasn't affected the team.

 

"We haven't really been on the outdoor track much through the fall because of the construction and so far this winter because of the weather. The weather looking on the calendar it looks like we have 60 degree days ahead of us so hopefully we'll be able to transition out there pretty soon, but we just do the best you can practicing inside," said Gondak. "When we get out to Arizona this weekend, we'll go out and compete and try to teach the student athletes to be the best competitor they can be under any situation and just let them compete and do the best they can do."

 

The outdoor season is an exciting changeover for the team. The season adds more events and gives injured athletes and athletes out of eligibility a chance to come back into action.

 

"We have a couple new events that come into play as we move outdoors, so it'll be exciting to see our athletes compete in those events and kind of get a baseline of where they are. The other thing as we move into outdoors is we have a handful of athletes that were either redshirted during the indoor season or that were out of eligibility," said Gondak. "We have two fifth year seniors that will come back into play outdoors that are both very talented, so I'm eager to see them get back on the track and compete after having not done so during indoor season for us in uniform."

 

The 400-meter hurdles are one of the events that will be added to the mix during outdoor. Junior hurdler Rachael DeCecco is ready to compete in her main event.

 

"The transition is a really exciting time especially as a 400-hurdler. We've been kind of on our backburners for the indoor season, not really doing our event, so we're pumped up and ready to start running the event that we came here to do," said DeCecco. "It'll be a little bit of a hard transition since we haven't been able to run outside yet, we've been working out just indoors so we haven't been able to do much of 400 hurdling, but our first meet will set a good tone for where we are in the season and know what we have to work on."

 

The Nittany Lions had successful indoor seasons on both the men's and women's sides and are looking forward to what they'll be able to accomplish this outdoor season.

 

"After coming off such a strong indoor season as a team, I think everyone's really excited to get started with outdoors," said junior captain Megan McCloskey. "It was a good few weeks, kind of a transition period and rest for everyone. Our people coming back from nationals are getting their feet back under them and everyone who just attended Big Tens is just ready to go this weekend and start off the season strong."

 

Coach Gondak has some starting goals this outdoor season, but wants to get a few meets underway before determining all the team can achieve this year.

 

"I usually like to get a few weeks into the season to really sit down and put some goals on paper. I like to see where everybody's fitness is and what they're all doing," he said. "We bring a variety of new events into the mix when you move to the outdoor season, so I want to see how our team competes over the next couple of weeks then we'll start to formulate some goals of what we think we can do as we head toward championship time."

 

The Nittany Lions will be in action for their first outdoor meet of the season this Friday and Saturday March 24th and 25th in Tempe, AZ at the PAC12-BIG10 Challenge. 

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By Alyssa Palfey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The men and women Penn State track and field teams are now more than ready than ever to compete at the NCAA Indoor Championships in College Station, TX on March 10th and 11th.

 

The men's team is coming off a second-place finish at the Indoor Big Ten Championships while the women captured the Big Ten title at the Spire Institute this past weekend.

 

These top finishes have brought the teams momentum going into nationals.  On the women's side, Penn State will be represented this weekend in four individual events and the Distance Medley Relay by six athletes, while the men will have five entries to the NCAA championships, including two athletes in individual events and its No. 4 NCAA and school record 4x400-meter relay.

 

"Obviously, it was a phenomenal weekend for both the men's and women's program at the Big Ten Championships," said head coach John Gondak. "Coming off of that, their motivation and adrenaline and excitement about heading into nationals is fantastic this week so far, so they are in a great spot. I'm looking forward to heading to Texas to give it our best next week."

 

The meet at Big Tens was filled with incredible performances on both the men's and women's side. Junior Malik Moffett broke the school record in the 200-meter dash twice over the weekend, once in the prelims on Friday and again in the finals on Saturday, earning him the bronze in the event.

 

"I feel pretty good. I've been chasing that record for a long, long time and it finally feels great to break it actually twice," said Moffett. "With nationals I feel like, I really don't get the opportunity to run against people that fast in the indoor season. Since I'm going, I feel like I can run even faster with them in my heat, so I'm looking very forward to it."

 

Senior Julie Kocjancic experienced her final Indoor Big Tens placing sixth in the mile and capturing the gold in the DMR. She will finish her indoor career being a part of the DMR at the NCAA Indoor Championships.

 

"There's a lot that I still want to accomplish, but it was definitely one of my favorite Big Tens. To pull off the win the way that we did and to just feel that the whole team competed and fought to get to where we were was a really good feeling," said Kocjancic. "I'm very excited going into nationals. I think that we haven't really raced our DMR against other fully stacked DMRs and haven't gotten to see what our full potential is, so I'm excited to get that opportunity and see how we do."

 

Sophomore Isaiah Harris defended his 800-meter title this year and contributed to the winning 4x4 team at the Indoor Big Ten Championships. He is using these wins as momentum as he prepares for the upcoming national meet.

 

"I was just happy because there were a few good guys there, so it means a lot to come back and defend and score the points for the team. I was really happy with that," said Harris. "This week we're just going hard again, like a normal week. Next week will probably be really light going into travel. We'll have an easy workout on Tuesday and an easy, steady run on Monday. Everything will be toned back a little bit, so we'll feel fresh when we get to Texas. I'm excited, mostly for the 4x4 really because I feel like no one really expected us to get there. We're going to be in the fast heat, so I'm really excited for that."

 

Harris knows that he's prepared for NCAAs, he says his coaches have trained them to peak during the most important times of the season.

 

"I trust Gondak and Tucker's training. They both know how to peak people at the right time, so like the same thing we are doing next week. We had an easier week the week before Big Tens, so you really feel fresh just taking a few days of easy running really helps your legs feel nice. I trust Gondak, he's done it multiple times in the past, he knows what he's doing."

 

Contributing to the second-place men's finish, Harris knows that the team is on the right track to a potential Big Ten title during the outdoor season.

 

"It feels really good because the program is moving in the right direction. We're really excited for outdoor since we're hosting it. Gondak is always saying you get like an extra twenty points just for hosting it, and we're getting a bunch of good people back that couldn't compete for indoor," said Harris.

 

"On the men's side, David Lucas is going to be in discus, which we didn't have in indoor, and we have Michael Shuey in the javelin, who has been a Big Ten champ. We have a lot of good returners. Michael Siagowski who is only a freshman, but he was injured in indoor, he can come back and make an impact right away. We're just really trying to focus on getting that Big Ten title, and now after that second-place title it really seems within our reach."

 

Harris, Moffett and Kocjancic will be joined at nationals by team members: Dan Chisena, Xavier Smith, Samuel Reiser, Tessa Barrett, Danae Rivers, Dannielle Gibson, Tichina Rhodes, and Rachel Banks.

 

The NCAA Indoor Championships will take place in College Station, TX on March 10th and 11th

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By Alyssa Palfey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - This weekend marks the end of the Nittany Lions conference indoor track season as they head to Geneva, OH to compete in the Big Ten Indoor Track and Field Championships.

 Some of the team has had their fair share of experience when it comes to this conference meet.

Senior sprinter, Alex Shisler knows his past experiences allow him to be ready to take on his last indoor Big Tens.

"I know what to expect. It's something I've been through, this is going to be my eighth Big Tens, so I know exactly what to expect," said Shisler. "I know what to expect when it comes to competition, I know how to run on that track, and I think all those things are going to benefit me greatly in terms of my competition."

This last shot at indoor Big Tens is leaving Shisler hopeful that the team comes out on top.

"Winning. I'm so excited to at least have that shot," he said.  "This meet is the one that we all look forward to. It's something we haven't done yet, so it's always fun to go in there, compete to the best of our ability and see if we can come out with a trophy." 

Returning to the meet this year is sophomore mid-distance runner, Isaiah Harris, who captured the 800-meter first place last year, running a Big Ten all-time indoor record time of 1:46.24. 

Harris is more secure going into the championships after taking the gold in it last year.

"I feel like going into this weekend I'm more confident based off what I did last year, so it's just a confidence thing. I'm not going to be nervous going into it."

 Although he won the open 800, Harris is more excited to run the DMR with his team.

"I'm excited about the DMR really because we've won it the past five years, but this year we aren't as strong as we have been in the past," said Harris. "Gondak just told me that I'm anchoring it now, so we're going to try I guess to pull an upset and try to keep the streak alive. I'm looking forward to that." 

Head coach John Gondak feels confident in Harris and his team after the Penn State Tune-Up last weekend. 

"Everybody is where you want them to be. A lot of the men that competed last weekend were using it as a workout meet so to speak, doing multiple events to kind of simulate what the conference championships is going to be like," said Gondak. "The women, we wanted to accomplish a few things and they are just very driven and focused right now on going and trying to make a run at winning the Big Ten title. They showed that with what they did in the DMR and with what a handful of other athletes did last weekend so they've got excellent energy right now." 

Gondak feels that all areas of the team are strong enough to contribute to a successful championship meet this weekend.

"The nice part about our program is that I think all areas are going to be the strength of our team. We work to really have a well-balanced program," said Gondak. "In most events, we have an opportunity to score. Obviously, in some events we have a little bit more of an opportunity than others based on our entries, but it's going to take everybody to be on their A game this weekend to have the results we want to have."

"I'm feeling really excited. I've asked the team week in and week out to just keep working to get better, and I think they've done that. I think they're really confident as we head on into the championships this weekend," he added. "They've been competing really well and we've stressed to them that this is just like any competition to them in terms of putting any undue pressure or stress on yourself and go have fun and compete and we'll hopefully have a good result." 

This Big Ten meet will serve as the last opportunity for qualifying for the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships. Going into this weekend, the Nittany Lions have had seven NCAA-qualifying performances. The top 16 individuals and top 12 relays at the meet will qualify for the NCAA Championships that will be held in College Station, TX.

The Big Ten Indoor Championships is set to start at 10 a.m. on Friday and continuing into Saturday at the SPIRE Institute in Geneva, OH.

 

@GOPSUSPORTS

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