Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony
Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony
By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In the spring of 1985, Penn State track and field student-athletes Vince Watson, Steve Shisler, Chris Mills, and Randy Moore ran the fastest 4x800-meter relay of their career finishing in seven minutes, 11.17 seconds - a Penn Relays Carnival and Penn State University record-breaking time.
In the spring of 2015, the relay record celebrated its 30th anniversary and Steve Shisler, now coach at State College High School, celebrated by watching his son, Alex, run on the winning Championship of America Sprint Medley Relay.
"We knew [we ran] a good time [in the 4x800-meter relay] when we were in it and we all had the sense that it would last for a while. It's a special achievement," said Shisler. "But the best part about that weekend is that Alex was a part of a Championship of America sprint relay. It was a great thing to see."
Junior Alex Shisler is a sprinter for Penn State track and field and it was at his first Penn Relays in the 10th grade, when he decided that he would uphold the Penn State tradition in his family and eventually become a Nittany Lion.
"My parents loved going [to Penn State] but [they] wanted me to go wherever I wanted to go," said Alex. "Since sophomore year of high school I knew I was going to run collegiately and in my mind I had it made up that I was going to go to Penn State. Both of my parents ran here and are on the school records here and I wanted to carry on that legacy."
Alex is a sprinter while his parents were middle-distance runner but, nonetheless, the pride of being a Penn Stater allows for a strong family bond and a supportive, understanding, and very dedicated cheering section.
The Penn State track and field tradition is also strong among three other current student-athletes and their families - freshman Elyse Skerpon, junior Robert Cardina, and freshman Megan McCloskey.
Freshman Elyse Skerpon's (Sprints/Hurdles/Relays) father, Donald Skerpon, was a pole vaulter at Penn State during his college career.
After spending his first year at the University of Rhode Island, Skerpon decided to set his sights a bit closer to home. After a few phone conversations with then-head coach Harry Groves, Skerpon found his way to Happy Valley.
He spent the rest of his undergraduate career as a Nittany Lion and started a family tradition that carried down to his three children - Luke (class of '12) was a member of the Blue Band, Taylor is a senior on the baseball team, and Elyse is just beginning her career with the track team.
"It's a great experience as parents. You have a lot of the same anxiety but it's great to see them work hard and make things happen," he said. "You build such great memories...and it's great to be able to come back [to State College]."
"After my dad came here, we've had season football tickets and we've been coming to football game since I was born, basically," said Elyse. "Coming here all those years made me want to be here and continue what my family started."
Since his track and field days, Donald Skerpon says the program still remains the flourishing team he was once a part of but thinks the commitment has changed quite a bit.
"It's a lot harder now," he laughed. "We worked really hard and it was a lot of time but it wasn't quite as intense [as it is now]."
Jennifer Williams-Cardina is among the top ten performers all-time at the university in the women's high jump event and is a former multi-events athlete.
During her time as part of the program, the indoor track was flat, white, and located at the old ice hockey rink. Though things have come a long way since, she remembers those days with joy saying she wouldn't change a thing if she could experience it all over again.
She has since left the streets of Happy Valley and her life as a student-athlete but has the opportunity to return as a spectator to see her son, junior Robert Cardina (Multi-Events), continue the Williams-Cardina legacy.
"I can remember when Rob was little he ran everywhere. He ran through the house. He would ask us to time him running outside around the house," said Williams-Cardina. "Finally, when Rob was in middle school, and went out for track, I had the opportunity to teach him how to high jump. We went to the track at night and on weekends to practice. I absolutely loved sharing this time with Rob."
Currently, Robert Cardina holds the school record in the heptathlon and is second all-time in the decathlon.
"Some parents don't know the ins and outs of the program and they don't know what it takes. [Having this in common with my mom] is an advantage [for me]. She prepared me well," said Cardina. "It's important to note that we both came here and left our imprint on the track and field program on both the men's and women's side."
Megan McCloskey is in her first season with the Nittany Lions as a high jumper.
She began jumping in the fourth grade and had a very special coach to help her get through it, Mimi McCloskey, her mother and former middle-distance runner at Penn State.
"My mom ran the 800[-meter run] and the 1600[-meter run] and I tried those when I was younger but it wasn't really for me," said Megan. "I started jumping in the fourth grade and [my mom] learned it at the same time I did. She was learning how to coach high jump while I was learning how to do high jump."
While her mother coached her athletic career up until high school and Megan has now graduated into the rigorous life of Division I track and field, she says she still looks to her parents for support.
"My dad played football. So he loves talking about that stuff. They always talk about the things he got to do and [the things] she got to do because it was a completely different experience," said Megan.
"I understand how hard the transition from high school to college competition can be for someone. When you are a freshman, not only do you need to adjust to being on your own and away from familiar surroundings, you must also adjust to new coaches, teammates, competition schedules, and the fact that everybody at this level is very accomplished at what they do," said Mimi.
Mimi McCloskey was a middle distance runner in the early 80s however, similar to Donald Skerpon, she says the program has changed since her workout days.
"Although the track remains much as it was 30 years ago, the training that Megan goes through is much different. The time commitment was much less than it is today," she said.
And like the Shislers, the Cardinas, and the Skerpons, the McCloskeys are just want their children to be happy.
"My hopes for Megan include her continued growth both as a high jumper and a student. But more importantly, I hope that she really enjoys her time at Penn State both on and off the track and graduates with amazing memories and lifelong friends," said Mimi.
The Penn State track and field program is an interesting and very special bond to have according to all the former and current athletes but it's even more special when it's a bond between parent and child.
Every parent and every student-athlete described this to be 'a very cool connection to have' describing their Penn State related dinner conversations and laughing at the times their parents talk about 'their glory days'.
But the current generation of Penn Staters only hopes to one day live up to their parents' great achievements.
"I want to leave my Alex Shisler stamp on Penn State track and field. I want to continue what my parents did." said Shisler.
"I know [my mom is] happy that I'm here," said Cardina. " It's a bond with my mother, a connection through track and field. She knows she was able to get through it and she helps me get through it too. It keeps the legacy in the family. I love my mother."
A legacy that thanks to experiences and memories made many years ago still stands strong and doesn't look to end any time soon.
Penn State has won 92 Big Ten titles, including 21 in women's soccer (16 regular season).
Penn State clinched five Big Ten titles in a span of 30 days during the fall of 2005, including one for the women's volleyball team.
In 2008, Penn State captured its third Big Ten title in football en route to a trip to the Rose Bowl.
The wrestling team began a string of four-straight Big Ten titles in March of 2011.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Months of physical preparation boil down to one weekend.
Eleven men and 15 women from the Penn State track and field squads will push themselves to the limit as they compete in the NCAA East Preliminary Round this Thursday through Saturday.
This is the competition track and field athletes prepare for all season with the goal of a top-12 finish in their respective event to move on to the NCAA Championships.
Familiarity of the competition is part of an advantage first round veterans have.
"If you're at a facility that you've been at before where you've had success before, you know your way around, it really goes a long way with helping you relax, be confident and comfortable," said head coach John Gondak.
Penn State will be just that as 14 of the 26 student-athletes have competed in the NCAA first round in Jacksonville.
Mental preparation builds off of confidence; a characteristic Gondak and his staff work to build with each student-athlete throughout the season.
"At the end of the day, they're the ones that have to do it. They have to believe they're ready," said Gondak.
Without a doubt, the Nittany Lions are ready.
The men's team ranks 15th, contains three top-ranked athletes and seven returners. Ranked No. 1 in the shot put, Darrell Hill looks for a standout performance to move on for the second time in his career. Hill won the Big Ten title in the shot put just two weeks ago.
Ranked fifth in the region and Big Ten Champion in the javelin throw, Michael Shuey will throw for a shot at competing in Oregon. Joining Shuey is redshirt freshman Ryan Kerr.
Also top-ranked and looking to punch his second ticket to Oregon, Brannon Kidder will run in the 800-meter. Joining Kidder is fellow Nittany Lion Robert Rhodes.
Junior Robby Creese is ready for a comeback performance after redshirting last spring. Entering the competition, the senior ranks No. 1 in the 1,500-meter run.
On the women's side, 15 Nittany Lions are set to compete, including seven veterans representing Penn State in 12 events.
Most recently breaking the Penn State school record with a silver medal throw (56-0) in the shot put at the Big Ten Championships; Rachel Fatherly enters the competition ranked No. 4. Joining Fatherly in the shot put competition are Alyssa Robinson and Obeng Marfo.
Also competing in the field, Lexi Masterson will compete in the women's pole vault; Danielle Gibson will take on the long jump and triple jump.
After notching a silver medal at the Big Ten Championships, Tori Gerlach will represent the Blue and White in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and the 5,000-meter run. Elizabeth Chikotas will make her first round debut in the 5,000-meter as a freshman.
Fellow runners Dynasty McGee and Tichina Rhodes will compete in the 400-meter dash and the 4x400-m.
The 2015 NCAA Preliminary will begin on Thursday, May 28 and conclude on Saturday, May 30. Follow the team on Twitter @PennStateTFXC for live updates.
By Michael Shuey, GoPSUsports.com Student-Athlete
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - This past weekend we traveled to the Big Ten Championships in East Lansing, Michigan. The weather for all three days was somewhat cloudy and around 70 degrees. Safe to say that this year's weather at the Big Ten meet was far better than the last time Michigan State hosted it when it snowed.
Day one of the championships started off with men's hammer throw where redshirt freshman Kory Decesaris had a huge 11-foot PR with his throw of 198-5. This mark moved him to No. 6 all-time at Penn State. Also with a PR in the hammer, was Justin Berg with a mark of 185-5. The women's hammer throw had their share of PRs for Penn State with Rachel Fatherly placing eighth with a throw of 191-9. Wrapping up day one was the 10k with Glen Burkhardt and Matt Fischer. Burkhardt finished fourth in his first outdoor Big Tens and Fischer placed sixth.
Day two started off with an exciting finish of the women's heptathlon by Tal Ben-Artzi with a fifth place finish by scoring 4,937. On the track Tichina Rhodes had a huge PR in the 400-meter dash by running 53.65, which moved her in to finals along with Dynasty McGee. In the women's discus, Obeng Marfo threw a 15-foot PR, 170-1, which placed her sixth. Finishing day two was the women's 3000 meter steeplechase with Tori Gerlach capturing a second place finish with a time of 10:13.33.
Day three started off with the first champion on the men's side with Darrel Hill defending his title by throwing the shot put 66-3.25. On the women's side Dannielle Gibson placed third in the women's triple jump with a jump of 42-3.5. On the track, Sancho Barret posted a fifth-place finish in the 110-meter hurdles with a time of 13.71, followed by the finish of the 400-meter dash where Dynasty McGee was third with a time of 53.59. The second champion was Brannon Kidder in the men's 800-meter run with a time of 1:47.56. In the field action, Rachel Fatherly finished second in the shot put with a school record mark of 56-3.25 and Obeng Marfo placed fourth with a personal-best throw of 52-6. In the men's javelin, I won the title with a throw of 236-8 and my teammate Ryan Kerr finished third with a throw of 229-2. The 5,000-meter race finished with Glen Burkhardt capturing his second fourth-place finish of the championships.
Neither the men's or women's side came out of the championships with a team win, but at the end of the day we had strong performances all over the board and showed great Penn State pride throughout the three days of competition.
By Tori Gerlach, GoPSUsports.com Student-Athlete Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - A small, yet prepared, group headed out to Palo Alto, California to compete in the Payton Jordan Invitational on Saturday. We had men and women competing in the 800, 1500, and the steeplechase. This meet is known for its distance races and amazing competition and it certainly lived up to my expectations this year.
All across the board we had a number of PRs, season bests, and even a top NCAA leading mark. We competed against some of the best competition in the country and gained more confidence and experience rolling into championship time. With the Big Ten Championships coming up in a couple of weeks, this is just the type of meet we needed to prepare with.
Penn State gave us the opportunity to show the west coast all the hard work we
put in so far this season. I am excited to see what the rest of the season
As if that wasn't exceptional enough in a sport that takes everything from upper body strength to gymnastics ability, all four women rank within the top ten pole-vaulters in Penn State history.
"That's something that I value. I earned that," said Masterson, who holds the school record at 13-3.5. "But to have three other teammates in the top ten is something that's more for Penn State than it is for me. To have us, kind of, rewrite pole vault for Penn State is so great."
"It feels really cool and it feels like we're making our mark. We're letting people know: you might not know Penn State pole vault but you're going to know [it], I promise you," said Knabe.
To add to the prowess, the women are fairly young. Masterson, Kemp, and Knabe have sophomore athletic experience and Mulhern is finishing up her freshman year.
"We're so young and we have so much more to learn and grow and keep building," said Mulhern.
From a training standpoint, the women have all the support form the university and their coaches, which, for them, makes being part of such a small group better.
"We have to thank Coach Kelly. Practice, meets, he always has our back. Pole vault is so frustrating, he can be so patient with us," said Masterson. "It's nice to have our unique little thing. We have respect for the people that do endless 200 [meter sprints] on the track and think 'Man, I couldn't do that' but then, we're like, 'They probably can't pole vault'."
Pole vaulting by definition is a track and field event where athletes must run with a long pole and use it to help them jump over a bar. It requires more athleticism than most people would predict and can be more dangerous than most other events.
"As a girl pole vaulter you have to have upper body strength and all of us have gymnastics background that helps us be successful," said Masterson. "We have two lifts per week, each about an hour. We'll have drill days and strength days and plyometric days. There's a lot of time to put in."
"[During] preseason, we lift three days a week at 6:30 a.m. and then come back later for practice 2:45-5 p.m. Then, on Wednesdays we have lifts, practice, and then gymnastics from 5 to 6 p.m.," said Knabe.
Aside from being physically fit, pole vaulting takes a lot of mental discipline and poise.
"Pole vaulting is all about confidence," said Knabe. "It's a lot of technique. You can be really fast and really strong but if your technique is wrong you're not going to go anywhere. That's why it's so mental because if your technique is not perfect then something is going to go wrong and it can be dangerous."
Fear is far from their vocabulary, though, and they are excited to have each other to rely on. Being best friends only adds the excitement of being talented.
"With this group, it's not about you, it's about all of us," said Masterson.
"We know our goals and we're always helping each other get there. The practice environment is really positive all the time. I think it's helpful that we're friends outside of track," said Kemp.
"We have an awesome vibe during practice. There's such a respect for this sport between athletes because you understand how hard this sport is so we just try and lift each other up," said Knabe.
Penn State is about to earn a whole new reputation in pole vaulting and the women thrilled to be part of the process confident that this is just beginning.
"Penn State is the best school ever. I wish I could put that into better words but it's true. It's such a good school academically and it's respected athletically," said Kemp.
"It's important for [people] to see how much we have improved," said Masterson. "I was a 12-foot jumper two times in high school. I wasn't consistent and within the first month on competition [at Penn State], I was 13-1. So, to see the improvement and how far it's going to go."
By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Embarking on yet another stepping stone toward a championship, Penn State track and field is headed to Philadelphia to compete in the Penn Relays Carnival.
Unlike any other meet, the Penn Relays is the oldest, largest track meet in the country celebrating its 121st year this weekend and with over 15,000 athletes, of all levels, from around the country competing in over 120 events, the Nittany Lions have a big three days ahead.
"I don't think it's that you prepare any differently. I think it's that you have to respect and understand what the history and the tradition of the Penn Relays are. It's one of the oldest track meets in the country. Right now, if you get a sunny day, from the attendance stand point it will be one of the largest attended track meets in the country," said head coach John Gondak.
With its long-established tradition, the Penn Relays has bred more than just another exciting meet weekend. The carnival-style display has sparked careers, dreams, and motives.
"There have been so many Olympians and champions whether it's at the high school, college, or professional level that have competed at the Franklin Field. It's a very hallowed ground of our sport," said Gondak. "It's the track meet I attended that got me into the sport back when I attended in the 10th grade and it has been, in my opinion, what launched my career."
"Although the Penn Relays are hosted by the University of Pennsylvania, at Penn State we still take pride in having one of the largest track and field meets in the country being held in our home state. [There is] pride that is involved with [being a part of] the blue and white...Talking about the history we are involved in gives you a little bit of added motivation and a different type of respect for the meet," said Hill, Philadelphia native.
"It's always really exciting to get into the Philly area and compete. It's exciting to have my parents come out and support me. I know the facilities and some of the officials...and it's the Penn Relays. It's always exciting to go back.
To add to the motivation, Penn State is entering this weekend as the sole owner of the men's 4x800-meter relay record time of 7:11.17 for the 30th straight year.
"It's an incredible sense of pride for our alumni, those that ran in that relay and the program in general. It's talked about at every alumni gathering and event," said Gondak. "Records are out there in an attempt to be broken but it has been 30 years and no one has broken this one. It's something that I know is in the back of our minds for our team to go out there and try to accomplish that."
Returning shot put champion, Hill knows very well the excitement that comes with big accomplishments but notes that the most important part is to focus on the now.
"You have to stay focused on the task. It goes on for a few days but the excitement about it helps you soak in the atmosphere and use [it] to your advantage. You have to be focused on the goal," said Hill. "I understand that it's a new year. I won last year, which was cool but it's a new feel and a lot of good competition so it's going to take a good day to repeat a championship. I'm prepared and that's the goal but I understand that it's going to take [a lot]. I can't underestimate anybody."
The most exciting weekend of the year begins Thursday, April 23 and lasts through Saturday, April 25th.
By Alex Shisler, GoPSUsports.com
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Now that we are in the middle of the outdoor season, I think we can all agree... It's great to compete in the south. When we first arrived in Baton Rouge, the weather was not looking good for a track meet. The forecast had called for thunderstorms and over an inch of rain so that's what we were all preparing for. Luckily for us, Mother Nature had different plans.
The day started off with a great javelin competition in the rain that Mike Shuey won with a huge throw of 242 feet and 8 inches. After the rain had stopped in the morning, the sun was shining for the rest of the day. We had some great performances throughout the meet but the freshman Bryce Williams grabbed himself a personal- best in the long jump (23-3.25). Steve Waithe had a great showing in the triple jump where he won the invitational section with a leap of 51-7.25.
After the meet, the coaching staff treated us to a delicious seafood dinner. It was great to be able to sit down with the team and discuss all the great performances we had that day while enjoying food that you definitely cannot get in Central Pennsylvania.
With another great meet in the books, it's time for us to focus on the task at hand for next weekend, Penn Relays!