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Nittany Lions Ready for NCAA Championships

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Just a single day separates Penn State track and field from the start of its NCAA outdoor championships campaign in Eugene, Oregon. For 12 Nittany Lions, it's one final chance to close out their outdoor season on the grandest stage, surrounded by passionate support at the historic venue. 

For Penn State head coach John Gondak, preparing to compete at the NCAA Championships is way more than simply physical training.

"It's more of the mental challenge of believing that you can compete with the best of the best and believing in yourself and stepping up into your competition with the right mindset that you're ready to go," Gondak said.

Guided by the experience of a mostly veteran group, the cross-country trip also marks the impending end of a few Penn State careers. Instead of dwelling on the bittersweet feeling though, it's all about settling into the right mindset - something Gondak noted he and the staff having truly been working on with the team. 

Fresh off a successful performance at the NCAA East Regionals, the Nittany Lions saw everything from nail-biting qualifications and monsoon-like conditions. 

"For the most part, it was just kind of a constant drizzle and some wind," Gondak said. "There were periods of time where it was just a monsoon. That's the type of weather you get in Eugene, it just kind of blows in and pours on you for a few minutes and moves on. We don't really practice for that, it's just kind of things you gain from experience and it will help us be prepared next time if we face those type of conditions again."

Moments after one of those fresh pours, sophomore Danae Rivers took off in the second heat of the qualifying women's 1,500 meter run. Clocking the second fastest time of her career (4:11.75), Rivers earned her second career trip to Eugene and first in the event. 

"I felt really good in that race," Rivers said. "I knew that the national champion from the mile was also in that race so it was just stick with her and it was kind of interesting to see - it was like a set up race for what's to come at nationals. Just running that pace and riding it out, it honestly felt really good. It prepares me for the semifinals and the finals, just getting to the next round and mentally staying involved and having the passion for it." 

With a year experience, Rivers noted her preparation for the task of two 1,500-meter races in essentially three days is right where it needs to be compared to her first experience in Eugene  last year. 

"I ran the 800 last year so there was a lot of competition," Rivers said. "Coming from high school to college, everybody is on the same playing field so it was a good experience. At that time last year, I was a little drained from transitioning from high school to college, but this year I feel like I'm more prepared and I've had cross country under my belt and I know what's going to happen."

On the more nail-biting side of things, Penn State's men's 4x100-meter relay team featuring  freshman Will Henderson, junior Anton Porter, senior Xavier Smith and senior Malik Moffett, waited in anticipation to eventually find out they would qualify for the NCAA Championships by the slimmest of margins.

"We saw the second heat and no teams were faster than us, so we figured we would be alright because we didn't think that six teams out of the next heat were going to make it," Smith said. "Times kept popping up, one by one and it kept getting closer and closer and then when we saw that sixth time and we knew that we were in. With everything at the same time, a whole bunch of emotions hit us."

It's the third trip to the NCAA Championships for Smith, who looks toward finishing his career in the Blue and White with a strong performance.

"It's just going out there and running fearless," Smith said. "When you go out there with a full crowd, especially at nationals, it can get kind of intimidating. Being there my third time, I know that, so it's going out there and running fearless and doing what you can do."

For a few Nittany Lions, this week also marks a final chance to face some unfinished business.

That's exactly the way senior captain Megan McCloskey describes her first trip to the NCAA Championships in her final season. 

"I felt like I had unfinished business the last few years and that made it really hard to end the season," McCloskey said. "After qualifying for Eugene this past meet, it was one of those things where I could just breathe and feel like okay, I did what I was supposed to do and I'm where I'm supposed to be. I think it's just going to be soaking it all in and appreciating what this journey has been and getting to have one final trip with the team."

Finishing outside the top 12 at last year's NCAA East Preliminary, McCloskey watched the 12 other student-athletes celebrate their upcoming trip the NCAA Championships. That wasn't the case this year though, as McCloskey recorded a season-best height of 5-10.75, before finding out just moments later she had made the cut.

"It was one of those moments that actually felt a little bit like a dream because I had seen it the last two years and I was on the other side of it and kind of bummed out," McCloskey said. "I got to watch those girls feel really excited and happy, and then I was one of them."

Junior Isaiah Harris also finds himself more motivated than ever this year, having finished as the NCAA runner up in the men's 800-meters last year. 

"I think he can contend for a national title," Gondak said when asked about his expectations for Harris. "Unfortunately he's up against the number one ranked 800 meter runner in the world right now so it will be a challenge but Isaiah is a gamer and he fights to the very end. He's going to give it his very best and we'll see if we can come away with a national championship." 

It's a simple formula for Harris, who notes, when it comes down to it anyone can win in a race, it all depends on who shows up to take it.

"Last year I wanted to win and I really thought I could win but this year it's like I need to win," Harris said. "I want to win so bad so I guess my drive internally is a little bit higher than it was last year." 

Hardly changing much in the span of year, Harris relies on the trust of his training and training partners, knowing that his head coach has just the right plan to get him peaking at just the right time.

"Every day in practice, we have a really good group of guys who I train with all the time," Harris said. "We all push each other and we all are a little competitive sometimes. Someone will run a rep a little faster to challenge everyone else, so we really just work together to make each other great and it pays off in the end." 

Regardless of individual performances though, if there's anything each Nittany Lion can agree on, it's the incredible atmosphere at Hayward Field - a place where seemingly anything is possible with a bit of a boost from the support.

"It's hard not to step it up when you get out there because it's such a great atmosphere," Harris said. "There's so many fans and you just have the adrenaline and everyone ends up performing amazing. You see it every year, something big always ends up happening. It's a great atmosphere."


By Alyssa Palfey, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn Relays have always been known as a carnival to most track and field athletes. This meet is held at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and is the largest and oldest track and field competition in the United States.


This year marks the 124th Penn Relays, where more than 15,000 participants from high school, colleges, and track clubs come to compete. For Penn State head coach, John Gondak, the meet means more to him.


"Personally, I grew up in Philadelphia, so heading home for the weekend is always nice. I think the best part about the Penn Relays is it's a carnival. It's a fun meet, there's great crowds, there's great competition," Gondak said. "We just work with the team to go down there and enjoy the experience and do something that they are no often to get the chance to do. If you're competing at the stadium Friday or Saturday it might be the only chance you have to run in front of 30-40,000 people, so it's a pretty exciting atmosphere."


For freshman pole vaulter Katie Jones, this meet offers an opportunity to be back somewhere that she's used to competing. Jones competed at the Penn Relays when she was a junior in high school at South Williamsport.


"It will be nice to be back. Everywhere that I've competed for Penn State has been a new place for me. Going back to somewhere that's familiar to me will be fun. It's also always fun to have my parents there watching," Jones said.


When Jones was last at the Penn Relays competing, she broke her best height. Having that moment made her memory of the Penn Relays positive. She says that the competition pushed her to compete her best.


"It was a lot of fun, I had a big PR that meet. I cleared 13' for the first time, so it's really special. The stadium was huge, it was raining that day, so there weren't as many fans. The competition had all be over 12', so the competition was really good," Jones said. "It was big meet, it actually had more competition than states for me. It was more than just Pennsylvania competitors, it was people from other states."


Along with the crowd, other aspects of the meet and stadium make it a great atmosphere for Jones to compete.


"Just being there. You have the different awards that are given and all the action that's going on around you. Pole is right along the home stretch, so it's always so cool being in the middle of all that action and watch everything that's going on while you're competing," Jones said.


Although it is a bonus to have competed at this large meet before, the transition from high school competition to college is something that athletes have to take into consideration. Gondak says how Jones has made this transition smooth so far but will need to have that continue into the weekend at the Penn Relays.


"Each person transitions from high school to college differently. The events are different, the competition is different and you're back to that freshman year of high school thing again where you're sometimes wide eyed and taking in the competition," Gondak said. "Katie has done a phenomenal job of transitioning to wearing a Penn State uniform. I am very proud and excited of everything she has accomplished so far this year. "

Individual events at the Penn Relays win a watch if they come in first place. Gondak explains how last year they had a lot of athletes come close to winning one of these famous Penn Relays watches.


"The field events will have opportunities to win individual watches, and I think we have a lot people in position to do that. I think last year we had one winner and a lot of second and third placers, so hopefully we can add to that winning column this year when we go down there," Gondak said.


Even though this meet is more of a carnival to most, Jones is going to use it as a preparation for the Big Ten Championships in two weeks.


"I want to build and try to improve whether it's height, technique or consistency. I just want to continue to improve and get ready for Big Tens," Jones said.


Gondak is confident that Jones will continue to do just that as she heads into the 124th annual Penn Relays this weekend.


"She probably had her best meet of the year last weekend, so I'm excited for her to continue that momentum this weekend at the Penn Relays, a location she's had a lot of success at in the past," Gondak said.


By Alyssa Palfey, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Assistant Athletic Trainer Michael Gay has been with the Penn State track and field team for just about five years, and to him, his job is more than just treating injuries, but actually getting to know the athletes and teaching them life lessons.


"One of the biggest things is how this stuff applies to life. How fighting through and getting through tough times, something that doesn't go well, how you can sort that out, take inventory of what's going on and move forward and do better," Gay said. "Each one of us has this ability inside, and it's something that each of these kids needs to take with them and apply later."


Although his job is to treat injuries and help athletes get better, he says that the most rewarding part is watching these athletes compete.


"The most rewarding part of the job is watching kids compete, work hard. It's PRs, it's kids that come from tough spots at the beginning of the year and progress then do something special at the end of the year," Gay said. "I just like the little stuff like that. Kids going to compete and PR and they're excited, they've done something they've never do before in their lives. It's really cool to watch it and celebrate with them."


Junior Maddie Holmberg is just one of the athletes that has been working alongside Gay for some time due to injuries. She says that Gay never settles and continues to look for new ways to treat injuries.


"Mike's really big about communication. A lot of it is that he doesn't have a cookie cutter protocol, which I think is a great thing," Holmberg said. "A lot of it is based on how we're feeling, how we're reacting to different rehabs, and he's never pushed us to do anything we're not comfortable with, but he can tell by the performances we're doing in the rehab when we're ready to get back to 100%."


Although battling through injuries is tough, Holmberg has had Gay's help to push through the tough times to become an All-American in the pentathalon this past indoor season.


"She fought through a lot of stuff. She's such a tough kid, the multis are tough people. They grind through five events in the winter and seven events in outdoor. Just to keep your body in shape and the effort, focus and determination it takes to get through one full day of competition and for each of those events to go well," Gay said. "Maddie is a special kid because she just fights a lot of little things here and there that have repeated and got in her way. She had an unfortunate injury at the end of her year last year that sort of set her back, but she refocused and has really put stuff together and is looking great this year."


"During the multi, Mike's always paying attention between events and giving me and my different injuries the attention that they need during the heptathlon. Being able to have him there is great. I always know when the 800 is over because I always see Mike at the finish line, and he's typically always there to either pick me up or give me water or anything else that I need," Holmberg added.


More than just treating injuries, Gay hopes that every athlete that seeks treatment is also learning lessons that can be applied throughout the rest of their lives.


 "You always have to come at them with the positive, you come at them with talking about the process, you come at them talking about how on the other side of bad things there are good things. That's not only just a sports thing. That's something they'll need to carry with them for life when tragedy happens or something tough happens. They got to persevere. Take each day as it comes and try to get a better spot and that's what we try to mock here," Gay said. "My hope is that the stuff that they get here, they can go on and use when they are husbands, wives, workers or leaders in the community afterwards."


Holmberg says that Gay isn't just interested in their injuries, but also with forming relationships with the athletes. She knows that he cares about more than just the injury.


"Mike is super invested that's something that I don't think anyone can deny. He not only is invested in our health, but more so our well-being. He knows the sport really well, so he's sympathetic in that aspect in knowing that any minor injury can drastically affect our performances," Holmberg said.


Through the relationships that Holmberg and Gay have formed throughout the past few years, it is obvious that Gay sees great potential in Holmberg as the season continues.


"She'll be a record-holder and All-American. The sky's the limit for her. She's got great potential, and she's going to be one of the best multis we've ever had here at Penn State," Gay said.


By Alyssa Palfey, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State track and field team is staying close to home this weekend as they travel to Lewisburg to compete at the Bucknell Classic.


During the outdoor season, the Nittany Lions tend to travel across the country to compete. Throughout the season so far, the teams have traveled to Arizona, Florida, California and Louisiana as a part of their outdoor schedule. This weekend, they are minimizing their travel by going just over an hour away to compete at Bucknell.


This distance from home means more than just a shorter travel to senior pole vaulter Hannah Mulhern. Being so close to Mulhern's hometown, Altoona, is a reason why she enjoys competing in this Pennsylvania meet.


"It's really nice to come to local meets in Pennsylvania because a lot of my high school teammates chose to go to schools in Pennsylvania. A lot of them still do track, so they will be showing up to this meet. That is also nice because it gives it another sense of feeling like home," Mulhern said. "Competing somewhere with lots of familiar faces, and a lot of times I'll see families that I recognize. My family even comes to these meets since they are so close to home, so that's another advantage and something I look forward to competing at Bucknell."


Although having familiar faces competing and in the crowd at this local meet means a lot to Mulhern, so does having a night of sleep in her own bed. Mulhern says the limited travel to this meet really helps with competing on meet day.


"Competing at Bucknell is really nice because it's basically in our back yard. It's pretty much a home meet for us. I think competing in Pennsylvania will be really beneficial for us. It's like a home indoor track meet for us where we just get to wake up and have breakfast at home, prep however we want to prep, sleep in our own bed the night before, those things are really big when it comes to getting in a routine for a meet," said Mulhern.


"Over the years I've realized, all the travel, the plane rides and the bus, that's all just extra obstacles that we have to overcome. It's great to compete in warm weather, and I'm so grateful that we get to do that. It's kind of tough recovering from those long travel days to come out and compete really well, so I'm really excited to get to rest our legs the night before and not be traveling all day long and have a fairly normal day to compete without all the extra travel hassle," she added.


Since the Nittany Lions are so used to traveling far for outdoor season, they usually expect nicer weather to accompany their travel. Being in Pennsylvania, the weather isn't something that the team can rely on this weekend. Mulhern says she's used to the unpredictable weather patterns that the state brings.


"The other thing about traveling is we chase the nice weather, but it doesn't always turn out the way we want it to be. In Arizona it was windy, but we usually know it's going to be nice in the places, but it might be really windy, or it might rain," Mulhern said.


"You never know what the weather is going to be like. Luckily, looking into it, for a majority of the people competing it's supposed to be sunny and 75 on Saturday, which will be really nice. Sunday when I am competing, it's going to be cooler and calling for rain, but that's just something you have to deal with. Being from Pennsylvania and having to compete in snow and rain and cold temperatures in high school, I'm pretty used to it, so I try to not let that get to me as much."


Mulhern and the rest of the Nittany Lions will travel to Lewisburg on Saturday to compete in day one of the Bucknell Classic.


By Alyssa Palfey, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Last year, the men's 4x100-meter relay team set the No.2 all-time school time in that event a total of six times.


This year, the 4x100-meter relay that ran last weekend clenched the No. 3 all-time school time with a time of 39.69 seconds. With members including senior Xavier Smith, junior Anton Porter, freshman Terrance Laird and senior Malik Moffett, the relay improved upon its season opener of 39.77.


The relay is hoping that this No. 3 ranked time will only improve from here. Members of the group say that clean handoffs at exchange zones are the main focus as they continue to prepare to run faster times throughout the season.


"First and foremost, we just have to get the stick around. We have to have clean exchanges. We're all fast enough and we're up and ready to run so I think stick exchanges are a big part," Smith said.


"We have a great chemistry together. We have really fast people on this team, if we just have really clean handoffs I don't see why couldn't be All-American in this event and get the school record," Moffett said.


Good, clean handoffs are a priority for this relay team as they reach to break the school record this season.


"Our goal is to always go out and run the best that we can, so I think every time we are on the track for 4x1 that we're destined to have the school record," Smith said. "We just go out, get the stick around. I know if we get the stick around and get out well then the school record is always in reach."


Sprints, hurdles and relays coach Erin Tucker knows that messy handoffs lead to losing momentum which results in slower times, so he always teaches his relay members to pass the baton in the middle zone.


"You want to get to a point of comfort where you don't even have to say stick because a guy gets in the middle zone and they put their hand back," Tucker said.


Coach Tucker also has the relay members practice every day. He even has them working on handoff drills during their warm up laps.


"We're always doing stick handoffs. We practice giving good exchanges. It's nothing too elaborate or too extreme we just go out and practice our stick handoffs," Tucker said. "It's all about moving the stick. You put people in the best position to be in to move the stick. That's what we work to do in training. That's what we work to do in meets."


Moving the stick is a big part of the 4x100-meter relay, and this is something that takes a lot of practice. This becomes even more difficult when new members are added to the relay. Seniors Moffett and Smith say having new legs in a relay team require some adjusting at first.


"It's a lot different from high school to college, so we're trying to get them to learn the basics of college 4x1. They're freshman and they are used to being the stars of their 4x1, but we have so many good people that we don't really need a stand out person, we just need someone who can get the stick around as fast as they can," Moffett said.


"It's a little bit of a transition because when they come from high school, they're the fastest kids out there so they're used to being anchors. They just want to get the baton and run," Smith said. "Now, you have to work on receiving a handoff and giving a handoff and worry about where your steps are. You have to tell them to stay calm and stay controlled and when they get the stick to just run."


As the group continues to grow and improve they can only expect bigger things and faster times to come. 


By Alyssa Palfey, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With indoor season over, the men's track and field team is left with the first indoor national champion since 1990, sophomore David Lucas.


Lucas won the weight throw title at the national championship at Texas A&M on March 10th. Lucas beat the runner-up by over three feet, throwing a new school record and a new facility record of 78'-9.75".


"It's super exciting. It's been 28 years since Penn State's won an indoor men's track and field individual title. I'm super excited to be able go down to Texas and compete and bring us back this national title back for Penn State," Lucas said.


Throws coach, Lucais MacKay, is excited that one his athletes brought home a national title this season.


"It feels really fulfilling, especially with David and the weight because it's kinda from ground up," MacKay said.


Going forward, Lucas learned a lot this indoor season, and he knows that this mark will help him transition into the outdoor season.


"You can't end the indoor season with any more momentum than winning an individual title," Lucas said. "I think that I learned a lot about competing this indoor season, learning how to channel anxiety and all the energy of the competition in a really efficient way to throw my absolute best. I'm hoping to take those same skills that I learned in the indoor season and translate that into how we move into outdoor."


"I think him understanding what competition is about and that it's an opportunity to compete. I hope that messages carry through because that's what we accomplished," MacKay said. "He's a really good athlete, so if it translates to the discus and the hammer and possibly the shot put then so be it."


As for outdoor season compared to indoor, the throwers switch from throwing the weight throw and shot put to throwing hammer, discus, shot and maybe even javelin. Lucas's best event is usually the discus, and he has high hopes of repeating a national title in that event.


"Things like that are always in the back of your mind. Performing at the high level meets and consistently doing that, I think there's definitely something to back up coming from indoor," Lucas said. "I'm comfortable with that level and pressure and having a target on my back. I think I'm just going to roll into shot, and the discus, and the hammer all outdoors and really just get things going from the start and keep building from there throughout the season."


Transitioning from the indoor season to the outdoor season is always tough for the athletes due to the change in events and the change in the weather. In State College it is especially difficult to make that transition due to the weather inconsistency.


"It takes a little while. You have to kind of put the disc on the backburner for at least a month or so of the indoor season. So, it takes a little while to get that going. Obviously with our weather patterns in Central Pennsylvania we aren't outside seven days a week right now or even five days a week," MacKay said. 


This is Lucas's second season working alongside MacKay, and he feels that MacKay has prepared him for the level of competition he sees at meets. He is looking forward to MacKay's coaching style as they prepare for the outdoor season.


"I think that he and I really understand how I respond as an athlete and learning how he coaches and building a really good relationship that he and I have," Lucas said.


"Moving forward and trying to replicate the success, he and I sat down and mapped out how the training plan was going to be and how we are going to progress throughout the season," Lucas added.  "I'm just going to trust in the training and continue to go through the motions and the same process, kinda like what we did in indoors and then try to peak in a similar manner for outdoors. I want to go and have some fun with the season."


By Alyssa Palfey, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - "I went to THON my freshman year and just kind of fell in love with it," said Tess Kearns.


That moment was the start of something special for the Penn State track and field student-athlete.   


Kearns is the now head THON chair for the Student-Athlete Advisory Board, SAAB, and she has been involved with the organization since coming here as a freshman.


"My freshman year, I came in and really wanted to be a part of SAAB. It was definitely something that was very attractive to me. So, then they gave me the role of planning our first ever lip-sync battle three years ago. All of the money ended up going to THON. I just kind of threw myself right into it," Kearns said.


Kearns knew she wanted to follow in her older sister's footsteps. Her sister was the head THON chair for the club cross country team here at Penn State.


"My sister went here, and she was really involved with THON. She was on the club cross country team and she was their head THON chair, so I was always hearing her talk about it," Kearns said.


But Kearns has a more emotional reason for being a part of this organization. Kearns said she hasn't been affected by childhood cancer, but she has been affected by cancer itself.


"I've never been personally affected by childhood cancer but growing up my dad did have cancer when he was 33. Not childhood cancer, but he was still pretty young. Cancer has always had a place in my heart, I just always want to help as much as I can," she said.


Kearns found herself shadowing Angela Widlacki, who was the head THON chair for SAAB last year. Now, Kearns is the head chair for SAAB and works alongside co-chair and football player Charlie Shuman. Kearns and Shuman are in charge of organization all the THON fundraising efforts for SAAB.


"We do the lip-sync battle, a pie in the face contest, our annual auction. So, a bunch of teams donate stuff and we auction it off online. I think this year we made almost $5,500 on it. We did an assassin game this year, we did a bake sale, and a lot of small fundraisers through athletics," Kearns said. "We sold programs in the fall at the football games, and we did some sustainability stuff with the Penn State Tailgate Ambassadors, so kind of dabbled in a little bit of everything."


Although juggling both track and field and being the head chair for THON on SAAB can be time consuming, Kearns expresses how much Shuman and her collaborate to make sure the job gets done.


"I can tag team with him. So, when one of us can't do something, the other one picks up the slack," Kearns said. "It works well. We make it work. It's time consuming, but it's worth it." He's done so much this year. I wouldn't be able to do what I do without Charlie."


Kearns is also in charge of leading Athlete Hour, which is a special hour that kids at THON get to come interact with athletes.


"Every year on Saturday we rent out the Tennis Center or the IM building, and we set up booths with fun simple games. The kids come over from the Bryce Jordan Center and we play around and have fun," Kearns said. "They love it. There's a DJ and people are dancing and playing games. They get to interact with athletes which is really fun for them."


Seeing the kids play with all of the athletes is one of Kearns's favorite parts about THON. She also loves how this organization brings so many people together for one goal.


"Within athletics, it's such a big organization. We are all going at different speeds all year round but when THON does come around and we get 18 teams up on stage for pep rally, all fighting for one cause and we get 22 teams at Athlete Hour to dance around with the kids. To see that sense of community and love and that you are all fighting for one single goal, is just amazing," Kearns said.


That community and love will be felt throughout Happy Valley this weekend, and Kearns will be a big part of it. 


By Alyssa Palfey, student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State track and field assistant coach Fritz Spence has been surrounded by the sport of track and field his entire life. It is a sport that has given him much more than just a chance to compete, it has given him life.  


Coming from the Bahamas, Spence started competing in track and field at a young age. So young, he doesn't even remember exactly how old he was.


"I've run track for as long as I could remember," Spence said. "I've been running and jumping. In the Bahamas they pick up track because it's a relatively easy sport to pick up as far as it doesn't cost a lot of money to run track, so a lot of the kids will do track and field. Over the years, I got better at becoming a jumper. When I graduated high school, I joined a local track club in the Bahamas and we would travel to the U.S. to compete at different universities."


A love for the sport started at such an early age allowed him to dream of becoming a coach someday, with a goal to pass that love on to others. 

His dream has come true, now an assistant track and field coach at Penn State leading the jumpers and multi-event athletes for the last 12 years.


"To be honest, I wanted to be a coach all of my life," Spence said. "I enjoy doing track and field. Even as a young kid, I would always kind of be directing the younger athletes, my younger friends, what to do and how to do so. I always had a passion for coaching."


Coaching comes with a lot of responsibility but it also comes with a lot of gratification. For Spence, it's seeing his athletes become successful in life that's the most rewarding aspect.


"The most rewarding part of being a coach is to get athletes to perform a high level but also is to see athletes graduating," Spence said.  "It's rewarding to see them coming in as a 17, 18-year-old and they graduate as a 22-year-old and get a good, decent job, and come back 3-5 years later and share their experience."


Even though coaching has proved to be rewarding from the beginning, it became even more important after he was diagnosed with leukemia in 2008. Spence was diagnosed almost 10 years ago on February 28, 2008.  That was the first of his two battles with cancer during his time at Penn State.


"During my treatment, I would come back to the track and just hang out," Spence said. "Just being in the environment with my student athletes, they gave me motivation to push through. I remember asking the head coach at the time if I get permission from my doctor will I be allowed to come to meets, just to be in that environment. I got permission and even through the whole process, I've been in and around track and field. I think that's my lifeline. It gives me motivation to continue to push through it."


In remission after his second fight, Spence wanted to find a way to give back to the place that gave him so much during his hardest moments. Starting in 2013, the athletes and coaches at Penn State host an annual walk-a-thon called "Fit for Fritz" to raise money for the American Hope Lodge, the place where coach Spence stayed during his treatment.


"Fit for Fritz is an event we started about five years ago. Now, it has grown so much over the years. This year, we raised over $17,000 for the American Hope Lodge Society in Hershey, Pennsylvania. All the money goes directly to the Hope Lodge because that was a place that I stayed at during both of my treatments. It was a place where you get to live pretty much for free," Spence said.


"After I got healthy, I thought about giving back along with student-athletes who have been motivated and excited to give back and do community service. We continue to do that every year, and I continue to give back to Hope Lodge and help people that is in my positon today."

Senior high jumper, Megan McCloskey was the head coordinator of the Fit for Fritz event this year and has been an athlete for coach Spence the past four years.


"It's been very special getting to work with coach Spence over the last four years, not only in track & field but with Fit for Fritz as well," she said.  "He's definitely a tough coach but all with the intention of helping us get the most out of ourselves and helping us realize our full potential. He reminds us after every meet that these days are special and we need to cherish every moment we have with our teammates and in competition because you never realize how quickly it goes or that one day you won't have it anymore. His appreciation for life and competition is something that I'll always be grateful for."


Whether a young child in the Bahamas, a cancer patient getting treatment, or a coach in Happy Valley, Spence has always had an appreciation for both life and competition, and he has nothing stopping him now. 


By Alyssa Palfey, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Junior Maddie Holmberg has been very familiar with the sport of track and field for years. Holmberg has been competing ever since her dad and neighbor started a track club through her local YMCA.


"It was really just something fun that I was able to do with my friends during the summer time. There, I found my love for racing and competing," Holmberg said. "It is really great to see that since then the size of the club has grown dramatically. I am very thankful for that program and my dad for introducing my favorite sport to me at a young age."


One of the main reasons Holmberg chose to come to Penn State was because of coach Fritz Spence, the assistant track and field coach in jumps and multi-events. Holmberg said that he possessed many similar qualities to her high school coaches and felt very comfortable with the team chemistry here. Along with that, Holmberg also chose Penn State because her father was a student-athlete here, the excellent balance between athletics and academics, and it's close to home.


"I knew I wanted to commit immediately after my official visit. I always tell recruits that Penn State is the full package and that it sells itself," said Holmberg.

Although Holmberg has been familiar with competing in the sport for many years, her experience competing in the pentathlon has just began. During her recruitment process, many coaches felt that her versatility in hurdles, long jump and sprinting would make her a very successful multi-event athlete.


"I was not very familiar with the event prior to college. I cannot say that the event came naturally to me," Holmberg said. "I went through some growing pains with injury and frustration at times, but ultimately with hard work and coach Spence's faith in me, I was able to trust the process and see my hard work start to pay off."

The pentathlon is an athletic event that comprises of five different events for each competitor: 60-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, long jump and 800-meter race. For Holmberg, her favorite events are the ones that come most natural to her.

"I really like hurdles and long jump because those are the events most familiar to me. In those areas, I am expected to score the most points," Holmberg said. "However, over the years I have really learned to love shot put as well. While there is a lot more technique involved than most might think, it allows me to use my explosiveness and aggression."

Although those events are ones that Holmberg favors, there are many difficult aspects to being a pentathlete. Even though there are times she struggles, she loves the event for its all-around mental and physical component.

"Most people probably think the physical training or the 800 would be the hardest part of the pent. While that part definitely isn't easy, I would have say the mental side of things is the most difficult. Training for multiple events with different techniques requires a lot of focus and dedication," she said.

"It is important to build mental toughness during the meet. This allows you to put the previous event behind you and focus your energy on the next event. Staying level-headed and maintaining composure throughout the rollercoaster of thoughts and emotions is challenging. This is why I love the pentathlon, it pushes me not just physically, but also mentally to be the best all-around athlete that I can be," Holmberg added.

Holmberg most recently broke the 4000-point barrier at the Penn State National Open. Breaking this barrier (4,133) puts Holmberg at No. 3 in the NCAA in the pentathlon. Although breaking this barrier is a very impressive mark, Holmberg knows the hard work doesn't stop here.

"It is really satisfying to see my hard work pay off this season. I am so thankful for my motivational training group and coach Spence who help me to push my limits in practice," Holmberg said. "I still have many areas that I can improve, but I am very happy to look at how far I have come. I look forward to continuing to push that personal best in order to earn my team as many points as possible at the Big Ten Championship."


By Alyssa Palfey, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State National Open provided the team with just what they needed- progress in performances.


The Nittany Lions are now about halfway through their indoor track season and are seeing some great improvements in their times and marks. Head coach John Gondak sees these improvements and is really excited for what the rest of the season has in store.


"As we talk about year in and year out, it's about just getting better as the season moves along. I think if you look at from where we were for the first meet, to last weekend, to this meet, people continue to get better and that's all you can ask for," Gondak said.


Some of these improvements involved athletes setting new personal bests in their events. Senior Greta Lindsley ran her best time in the 3000-meter.


"I think coming off from a PR in the mile two weekends ago, I had the confidence to do what I did today in the 3000-meter. I think I went out a little hard, little aggressive, but that's what you should do," Lindsley said. "I thought I had the confidence to PR today, I want to keep that momentum going and just want to see where that takes me and keep working hard and not giving up, especially since it's my last year."


Along with Lindsley, freshman Terrance Laird and junior Dan Chisena ran their personal bests in their events at the open this weekend. Chisena ran his first open 400-meter of the season and came out with his best time ever in the event.


"That was my 400-meter opener, so I was very happy that I could PR in an opener," Chisena said. "I'm just hoping to build off of that."


"I feel good. I was in lane 6, so I didn't get to see anybody. I know Malik, Xavier and the kid from Coppin State were coming for me, so I just ran scared and as fast as I could. I just hoped that I put myself in a good position coming down the home stretch," Laird added.


Although senior Hannah Mulhern pole vaulter didn't set a new PR at the meet, she knows that her mark will only continue to improve from here.


"I'm really happy with my performance today. I think that I'm progressing really well as the season goes on, just keep getting a little bit higher each meet which is really important," Mulhern said. "I haven't peaked yet I don't think, but I think that's coming. It'll come at the right time for me."


Mulhern and the other pole vaulters got the chance to compete with some great competition today. Olympic gold medalist, Jenn Suhr, was at the open.


"There were some really good unattached girls who came in to compete today, one of them being the Olympic Gold Medalist Jenn Suhr, who didn't end up actually competing, but we got to warm up with her," Mulhern said. "Seeing her take some jumps was really, really cool for us to see an athlete at that level in our sport do what she knows how to do best."


The season isn't nearly close to over, so the athletes and coaches know that they still have to continue to work hard in order to have great performances when it comes Big Ten time. Luckily, the athletes will get an opportunity to compete at the Spire Institute, where Big Tens are held, in two weeks.


"One of our meets is at the Spire institute, which it's also good to run there before the Big Ten meet just to get a feel for the 300-meter track and running on a flat track again. I'm just looking to hopefully figure things out there and then transition how I feel at that meet to the Big Ten meet," Chisena said.

"There's always room for improvement. I'm just going to work on those things for practice. We are at Spire next time we travel, and I've never ran on a 300-meter track before, so I hope that helps me going into Big Tens and being prepared for that," Laird said.


"We are starting to put up some performances now that are very competitive with the Big Ten, that are leading the Big Ten in a lot of different areas, so I think we are right on track for what we want to accomplish this year," Gondak said.


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