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By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In week three of Penn State track and field preseason and the third chapter of season previews, GoPSUsports.com caught up with head coach John Gondak and the mid-distance and distance student-athletes on their preparations and goals for the upcoming year.

The Nittany Lions return three student-athletes, junior Za'Von Watkins, junior Brannon Kidder, and senior Robby Creese, as part of their distance medley relay group, which is the three-time defending champion at the Big Ten Championships. Last year's time of 9:26.59 broke Penn State's record and was just over a half of a second shy of the world record.

"The [distance medley relay] is a lot of fun and it combines the true aspect of middle distance," said Gondak. "The fun thing [about this year] is that we have three of [the] four legs coming back."

All-American student-athletes Watkins and Kidder are looking forward to the competition this year noting their team chemistry, depth, and experience.

"[The distance medley relay] is obviously one of our go-to [events]. We're really strong at that event and we have three of the same guys coming back," said Watkins. "We're looking forward to getting a record this time but as long as we run fast I'm happy with that, too."

Junior Tori Gerlach enters the 2015 season as the defending 3,000-meter run Big Ten Champion with her lifetime-best, 9:10.76. Gerlach is also a tough competitor in the 3,000-meter steeplechase with a personal record time of 10:03:55. Both rank second in the all-time Penn State record books.

"It was really exciting last year because I wasn't expecting to win [the 3,000-meter run] so it was awesome and being just short of the school record is awesome so that's definitely something I'm aiming towards this year," said Gerlach.

This year's freshman class is ready to cause uproar. 

After being named the 2014 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Elizabeth Chikotas joins the distance team after a phenomenal cross country season. Freshman Joey Logue recorded 13 state medals and two All-American titles during his high school career.

The student-athletes have been diligently training all preseason in the Ashenfelter III Indoor Facility, which features a six-lane, 65-foot-radius hydraulically banked Mondo track, one of five in the country.

The team is set to kick-off their season on Saturday, December 13th when they host a Blue vs. White Intrasquad meet.

For more information on Penn State track and field visit www.GoPSUsports.com and follow the team on Twitter @PennStateTFXC.

By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - This year's Penn State track and field throwers are coming off summer training stronger and more experience than before. This week GoPSUSports.com caught up with the student-athletes and Coach Patrick Ebel for part two of the 2015 season previews.

Senior Darrell Hill returns this season as a captain for the Nittany Lions after spending the summer in California with the USA track and field team at the USATF Outdoor Championships where he posted a 10th-place finish in the shot put with his mark of 64 feet, 1.25 inches.  

"Making it to [the USA Championships] was a huge goal of mine and just to be able to be there in that wonderful facility in Sacramento and to be able to compete with...some of the best people in the world.. and finish high and make it to the finals just showed me that my time is coming and that with hard work I can make it back next year and be even better," said Hill.

Junior Michael Shuey threw a school record-breaking, gold medal-winning 249-5 javelin toss at the U-23 Championships in Kamloops, Canada and he spent time in California along with Hill and the USA National Team.

"I got to go to Canada and had an amazing experience at the Olympic Training Center, I got to hang out with Darrell Hill, and I finally hit 249 and it was awesome," said Shuey. "Everyone that was on the team was the top [competitor] in his or her event. [It was] an amazing experience."

Junior Rachel Fatherly spent the summer training and conditioning with her teammates. They're returning this year well built and determined to dominate the competition.

"We are all physically stronger than we were before...in the weight room we are putting up higher numbers. The summer had a lot to do with it. We did strength and conditioning and we're all in a good mindset. We want to reach really high goals this year," said Fatherly.

The team's first meet, a Blue vs. White intrasquad competition, is set for Sat., Dec. 13th.

For more information on Penn State track and field visit
GoPSUsports.com or follow the team on Twitter @PennStateTFXC.  

By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State track and field preseason training is officially underway. This week GoPSUSports.com caught up with the sprinters, hurdlers, and relay runners to get an inside look on this year's athletes, training plans, and goals. 

Senior Dynasty McGee (Flint, Mich.) is coming off a big year with the team after playing a key role in the women's 4x400-meter relay team that finished in first place at the 2013 Big Ten Indoor Track and Field Championships. McGee made a big impact in the outdoor season as well by winning eight events, qualifying for the NCAA Championships, and being named First Team All-American.

"Last year was a big year for me and I just want to top that. I want to get better and better and I know that if I stay focused and dedicated, I'll do that," said McGee.

Junior Kiah Seymour (Washington, D.C.) had an eventful summer as a part of the United States National Team in the 400-meter hurdles in Kamloops, Canada.

"When I went to Kamloops...it was the best track experience of my life. I got to run in the USA [under] 23 team and I made life-long friends," said Seymour. "After training with [coach] Bungard he really told me that I had nothing to lose so I went for it."

On the men's side, the team is looking young, focused and powerful.

"I'm just looking to go out, compete and do my best out there," said freshman Xavier Smith (Douglasville, Pa.).

The team is led by two upperclassmen, senior Sancho Barrett (Amityville, N.Y.) and junior Alex Shisler (State College, Pa.), who both qualified for an NCAA Championship event in 2013.

Coach Randy Bungard is in his third year with the program and he is thrilled to begin this season noting this year's goals are almost identical to those in the past - winning. 

"Our goals this year are kind of the same they've always been. As a team, we want to win the Big Ten Championship and go to the NCAA Championships and be a presence there," said Bungard.

While the team's first official event isn't until December 13th when they host an intrasquad Blue vs. White meet, the athletes are already hard at work and preparing for the competition. 

For more information on Penn State Track and Field visit www. GoPSUsports.com or follow the team on Twitter @PennStateTFXC.  

 



By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State Athletics and the Red Cross will team up once again to demonstrate their 'One Team' bond in a blood drive that will honor Penn State track and field jumps and multi-events coach Fritz Spence.

Spence has been a part of the Penn State family for eight years and carries a long record of success including having coached 15 All-American athletes, various NCAA qualifying athletes, and many, many winners.

However, Spence doesn't just coach victors - he is a part of them.

In February of 2008, Spence was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, a cancer that begins in the bone marrow and is known to spread very quickly.

After what seemed like endless treatments, long nights in the hospital, and a tough bone marrow transplant, Spence prevailed and now stands as a strong and proud cancer survivor.

The blood drive, which is sponsored by Penn State Track and Field, is run by volunteers and student-athletes who dedicate their time to make sure the event runs smoothly and successfully.

Senior Michael McClelland (Washington, Pa.) runs the event on the student-athlete side making sure there are volunteers available to work the event. He is also in charge of letting all Penn State Athletics teams know about the blood drive and he is a primary spokesperson for the drive informing all volunteers and donors of the importance of the event.

"Michael has done a really good job of organizing the event and getting the student-athletes to volunteer and come out, he is one of my key committee members. He's really very supportive," said Spence.

"I'd say people all across campus are motivated to make this event a success. I'm invested [in the event] and I think [everyone] can tell," said McClelland. "Coach Spence is not a super emotional guy but I can tell he's appreciative. I can tell this means a lot to him and he's really thankful for the work I'm doing and the entire team is doing to make sure this is successful."

McClelland says the goal for the blood drive is to get 50 volunteers to donate 35-36 units, which has proven to not be a problem. Last year, they had such a big turn out that they had to reject donors.

Spence is overwhelmed by the success of the event, which he hopes becomes a long-lasting tradition for the University.

The blood drive is also a very important part of Spence's life. He points out that this is his way of giving back to the community that was so supportive of him when he was in need and he hopes that every donor and volunteer understands the significance of events like these.

"It's important to give and to give back because you never know when it will be your turn or your family's turn to get blood," he said. "The statistics are one in seven [people] that will need blood in their lifetime. [You] will know someone, sometime in your lifetime that will need blood."

The blood drive will take place in Rooms E and F of the Bryce Jordan Center on Mon., Oct. 27th from 10:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. 
There will be a double red donation opportunity.

To schedule an appointment visit psuredcross.org and click on the blood drive tab or go to redcrossblood.org and use the sponsor code: psu.

 



By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Four coaches from four distinct parts of the world made their way to Happy Valley this week to work with the Penn State track and field coaching staff and student-athletes as part of the International Coaching Enrichment Certificate Program (ICECP).

ICECP, which begins at the University of Delaware and works through the Unites States Olympic Committee, is a five-week intensive coaches' education program that gives candidates from around the world an opportunity to attend lectures and presentations in the United States for the benefit of their education and career.

Head coach John Gondak and company hosted Letitia Vriesde (Suriname), Andris Eikens (Latvia), Faris Abdulla (Maldives), and Nigatli Worku (Ethiopia) for the entire week sharing with them the track and field facilities, workout routines, coaching strategies, and introducing them to Penn State student-athletes.

Unlike any of their past trainings, the coaches were able to do hands-on work, which they eagerly described as their favorite experience thus far.

 "What I see at Penn State I don't think I will be able to see ever again," said Abdulla, a kids' coordinator for an athletics association. "It is so complex and everything I see here is so wonderful and I hope one day that we will get to this level. Our experience here is different because we finally got hands on experience. This is more practical and technical."

At their future stops, the coaches will be attending lectures and presentations so they were opportunistic in their time here.

"Here we have shared with coaches their practical knowledge and that's very different from attending lectures and doing projects," said Worku, a track and field coach at the national and junior levels. "I have attended a lot of training courses and this is by far the best one."

In their respective home countries, all of the coaches explained the lack of organization between academics and athletics commending the way Penn State intertwines the two. They explained that the structured system the University implements is by far the best method to success they have seen.

"The first thing I noticed at Penn State is that they have a very good system for athletes," said Abdulla.  Their scholarships and the coaching system...they have a systematic way of developing athletes. It is so hard to convince people and parents [back home] that sport is a way of life."

The coaches are pleased to see that Penn State develops athletes to represent themselves and also, their respective schools making athletics and academics a source of pride, which is very different from their normality.

"You are not competing for your university and it's not part of a system," said Vriesde, a coach at the Atlantic Club of the Future. "You go to school and, then, if you like to run, you go and join a club."

They were also blown away by the facilities available to the program. It became apparent to them why the student-athletes are so ambitious and motivated.

"The facilities available for the athletes make me think that there is no reason not to make it to the world class [level]. It's very impressive because back home we basically don't have any facilities, said Vriesde. "We run on grass. It's good to see everything that is done for sport achievement."

"I'm very pleased to see how highly motivated all the athletes are to compete here," said Eikens, a decathlon coach for his country's national team. "There are very, very good facilities and options."

The Nittany Lions impressed them and even though they say it will be decades before they see any change in their countries, they hope to one day work with athletes, parents, and schools as one to shed light on the importance of unity between academics and athletics.

The coaches have three more weeks left in the program and will travel to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado upon their departure from State College.


 

Gondak, Nittany Lions Look Forward to New Era

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10372381.jpegBy Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State is many things. It is a research institution and an athletic empire. It is history, tradition and culture.

For most people that come across this campus, though, of any age, any background, or any position, Penn State is one simple thing - a dream come true.

Dreams, like many things in life, come true through hard work, dedication, and a vast amount of time.

After eight years with the University and two long months as an interim, John Gondak has been officially named the Penn State cross country and track and field programs' head coach and he could not be more thrilled.

"Words can't describe what this means to me," said Gondak. "I'm thrilled and honored to continue to work with the student-athletes here. To be the head coach here is the pinnacle of my career to this point and I'm looking to continue that and achieve greater heights here with the program."

Gondak comes with a long history of experience and a great deal of time on the track.

He was a walk-on runner onto the Syracuse University cross country team where he earned a scholarship and the accolade of team captain. After graduating as valedictorian of the civil engineering program, he made his way through over a decade of coaching and recruiting experience at Georgia Tech, Toledo, and Kentucky before ending up in Happy Valley.

During his time with the NIttany Lions, Gondak has been remarkable.

During his eight years, he has been named United States Track and Field/Cross Country Association (USTFCCCA) Mid-Atlantic Region Assistant Coach of the Year five times, along with assisting to lead multiple Big Ten, NCAA, and All-Regional championship appearances.

It's impossible to deny Gondak's passion, which flows right through him when he speaks about the University and its athletic program.

"Every coach has that one university in mind that they would really love to work for and for me Penn State has always been that," said Gondak. "Penn State is the university I grew up with. I've been coming to athletic events here ever since I can remember. Both my parents went to school here. They've been saying great things about Penn State their whole lives."

His demeanor is confident and approachable, and he stands proudly and poised.

"I truly believe we have the best student-athletes in the world here at Penn State. They're not only highly focused to achieve success athletically but their academics [are] a huge piece to them," he said. "Going forward to watch the athletes come through the program and move on to the real world is exciting to see."

Fortunately for Gondak, the student-athletes seem to feel the same way.

"I can't think of anyone better for the position considering how much he cares about the guys and the program," said senior Glen Burkhardt. "He does a very good job on everyone's individual needs. He cares a lot and I think everyone really likes him. That alone is big incentive to work hard."

Most days, Gondak can be found on the track or out on the running course. The days when he is in his office sitting at his dark burgundy desk, he is planning practice workouts and reflecting on previous races.

The future brings big changes for Gondak and his professional career but, as for the program, he simply hopes to continue the excellence that is already established.

"We have a great platform for success that was built not only by Coach [Beth Alford] Sullivan but also, by Coach [Harry] Groves and the coaches before them. We want to continue to build on that but we've got this thing going in the right direction right now with two of what, I think, could be the best teams Penn State has ever had," Gondak said.

Next weekend, Gondak will travel with the cross country team, for the first time as their head coach, to South Bend, Indiana, for their first NCAA qualifying meet at Notre Dame. The team has already been thinking about it, preparing, and working towards their goals every day.

As they continue to prepare for the competition, perhaps the program can rest peacefully, indeed, they have chosen the most dedicated man for the job.

Barbour Eager to Lead Penn State Athletics

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The 18th of August cannot come soon enough for Sandy Barbour.

Introduced as Penn State Director of Athletics on Saturday afternoon, Barbour is thrilled to begin her tenure as the leader of an athletic program that aspires to continue its long history of excellence on and off the field of play.

"When you spend a professional lifetime serving institutions and most importantly students, you dream about coming to a place like Penn State," Barbour said. "You dream about the opportunity to lead a program like Penn State athletics. Why? Because it represents the opportunity to have it all: Athletic excellence, academic achievement, community engagement and fiscal responsibility. So thank you, Eric [Barron]. I am absolutely thrilled, over the top excited about this opportunity and about being the athletic director at Penn State."

A graduate of Wake Forest where she was field hockey team captain, Barbour grew up on the East Coast and has always had a deep passion for Penn State University and its athletic department. That's what drew her to the position when she originally spoke with President Barron about the opportunity.

Immediately, Barbour felt a connection with the people, pride and remarkable accomplishments of Penn State University and its athletic department.

"I love the 'We Are Penn State.' I particularly love what it stands for. It stands for family," Barbour said.

Barbour desires to see national titles in all 31 sports on campus. But first and foremost, she will strive to lead a department with student-athletes who are elite performers in the classroom.

"We are athletic programs again that are all part of a university," Barbour said. "Our student-athletes will be students first, Penn State is incredibly proud of the academic performance of their students and we will continue to be."

Eager to hit the ground running when she begins her duties as athletic director in 23 days, Barbour wants to learn from everyone in the department, especially the head coaches leading Penn State's 31 athletic teams.

"Unity doesn't mean one opinion, and I actually embrace that, embrace the diversity of opinion, diversity in a variety of different ways, and I actually think that will make us stronger in our ability to move forward," Barbour said. "As I said before, I have something to learn from everybody, and I'll be doing a lot of listening."

Numerous head coaches were in attendance at Saturday's introductory press conference. The coaches and athletic department staff then had a chance to mingle with Barbour at a private reception before she boarded a flight to Chicago for Big Ten meetings. The head coaches in attendance exuded great confidence in the future direction of the athletic department.

"There is a culture, history and tradition of tremendous academic achievement at Penn State and that will continue," said head football coach James Franklin. "I know it's important to our president, athletic director and all of our coaches. That will continue. I know we'll spend as much time as we need to so we can start building."


"I am truly thrilled that Sandy Barbour will serve as the next athletic director for Penn State," Lady Lions head coach Coquese Washington said. "Sandy is a strong, dynamic and passionate leader. She is also an incredibly smart visionary and strategic thinker. It is exciting to imagine all the ways Penn State University, and Penn State athletics in particular, will be positively impacted by her leadership."

"I loved everything I heard today," head women's hockey coach Josh Brandwene said. "She has passion, vision and just a great understanding of the Penn State community. Both as a head coach and as an alumnus, I am really excited to start working with her."


Barbour will return to California in the coming days to prepare for her full-time return to Happy Valley on Aug. 18, and the new leader of Penn State Athletics is fired up to get started.

"We are Penn State. I'm all in. I'm ready to get going," said Barbour.

 


Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

From My View - Big Tens

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By Bernard Bennett-Green, GoPSUsports.com Student-Athlete Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Competing in my last Big Ten Outdoor Track and Field Championships was definitely an experience that I will always remember. As a team we've been through a lot this year. As a result of everything that we've had to go through, we've become a stronger and closer group. As a unit we finished sixth overall, but we gave everything we had and that's all you can ask for at the end of the day. We had some individual champions with Darrell Hill in the shot put, Steve Waithe in the triple jump, and Michael Shuey in the javelin.


Watching all three of those guys become champions was a very special moment because they all have different stories of where they started out from to where they are now. Darrell started his career at Houston and transferred to Penn State last year. Steve started out at Shippensburg and transferred to Penn State this year. Michael started out as a multi last year but decided to dedicate all of his time and effort to the javelin throw this year. Watching these three guys put together successful performance makes me excited to keep tabs on their futures here at Penn State.

Another great moment that happened during the championships was that the women's team captured another outdoor title. I don't know what's in the water on the women's team, but they always seem to get it done when championship season comes along. To win Big Ten outdoors last year, indoor this year, and outdoor this year is an incredible feat. My hat goes off to them because they know how to get it done when it matters. The men's team has the necessary pieces to capture its first team title some time soon its just the matter of putting them together and everyone being one the same page at the right time. The season is not over yet. We will be back in action in two weeks in Jacksonville, Florida for first round competition.  

From My View - Maryland Twilight

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By Bernard Bennett-Green, GoPSUsports.com Student Athlete Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - This past weekend, the team headed down to Maryland for the first time in our program's history. We usually have a week off before our home meet every year, but this year the calendar was a bit weird. The Maryland Twilight meet was a great meet overall for our program because a lot off people performed very well. A bunch of people stepped up, but a few that stood out to me were Dynasty McGee, Kiah Seymour, and Darrell Hill. |

Dynasty ran a personal best time of 53.25 in the women's 400-meter dash. That was huge for her because she's been waiting patiently to drop her time. Another great performance that stood out to me was Kiah Seymour in the women's 400-meter hurdles. Kiah didn't have her best race the week before at Penn Relays and seeing her bounce back by running a national-leading time of 55.88 was huge.

The last performance that really left a great impression about the future of this team was in Darrell Hill. Last week, he won Penn Relays with a toss of 63 feet so you would expect most people to come into a meet like Maryland just focused on putting a mark down and cruising to a win. Darrell was able to throw a personal best at Maryland with a toss of 64 feet! Darrell has really been finding his groove lately, which really excites me for his future.

Personally, this meet wasn't the best for me. Honestly, this outdoor hasn't been my best season. There are some things that I need to improve on and adjust for things to go the way that they should. I fully believe that when Big Tens come around in two weeks that I'll be ready to have the performance that I need to help my team chase down our first Big Ten title. In the meantime, I have to remain to be patient and focused on getting better every day.  

From My View - Penn Relays

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By Bernard Bennett-Green, GoPSUsports.com Student Athlete Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - This weekend, I was able to participate in one of the greatest and oldest track meets in the world that is known as the Penn Relay Carnival. The meet started on Thursday and lasted all the way until Saturday but I didn't run until Friday and Saturday. Traveling to Philadelphia for a track meet is always a special moment for me since I'm from Cheltenham High School, which is a small suburb right outside of Philadelphia.

It's always special because of all of the love and admiration that Penn State receives when we attend Penn Relays. From our performances in the field events and on the track we also receive positive praise and attention. Even though we are not the hometown team, many people look out for our performances around the country and expect nothing but the best from us.

I'll never forget Penn Relays this year because of all of the special moments that my teammates helped to create. From Darrell Hill winning shot put to actually being on the in field and watching Steve Waithe jump 53 feet to win triple jump. Another special moment that I thought was pretty cool was that I happened to be sitting next to a Penn State alum as I was watching our men's sprint medley relay win, and I didn't even know it until we began to talk. It's great to know that alums still follow the program and enjoy seeing your success on and off the track.

Race day was Friday and Saturday, and I got the opportunity to run the 4x400 meter relay. Friday's prelim heat didn't go as we expected it but we ran and made the IC4A final heat that took place on Saturday. On Saturday, we ran our season's best time of the year of 3:07.94 for our second consecutive IC4A title.

Penn Relays was a great meet because our team performed well as a unit. I'm looking forward to our upcoming meet in Maryland this weekend because we can punch a few more tickets to first rounds, which will be held in Florida. The next few weeks will fly by with graduation and my final home meet approaching rapidly. I plan on enjoying everyone moment that comes my way because many people have told me that my college years will be some of my best memories.

@GOPSUSPORTS

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