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.