Robby Creese, Darrell Hill and the men's distance medley relay victorious on day one of Big Tens
After serving six years as an assistant coach, two years as an associate head coach and two months as the interim head coach for the Nittany Lions, John Gondak was named head coach of Penn State cross country/track & field on Sept. 17, 2014. Gondak's résumé while with the Blue and White - which can be matched by few middle distance mentors in the country - includes 19 first team All-Americans, 22 Big Ten Champions, 20 Penn State records, five Big Ten Freshman of the Year honorees, five Penn Relays victories, and three sub-4:00 milers.
During his eight years with the Penn State track & field team, Gondak has helped the Nittany Lions' post seven Big Ten track & field titles, including three-straight (2014 indoor, 2013-14 outdoor). The 2009-10 school year was a sensational year for the Penn State Nittany Lions as the women won the Big Ten triple crown. The women continued their success into the postseason as they finished fourth at the 2010 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. The Nittany Lions also finished fourth at the NCAA meet in 2008.
For the Nittany Lion men, the 2014 Big Ten Indoor Track & Field Championships featured their highest finish ever at the meet (third). Four podium finishes, along with numerous scoring performances propelled the Nittany Lion men to finish third.
Aside from his student-athletes' efforts on the track, the Doylestown, Pa., native has also had a huge impact on the Nittany Lions' success on the cross country course, including a Big Ten title by the women's squad in 2009, and an NCAA Mid-Atlantic regional title in 2012. Over the years, Gondak has assisted in NCAA-qualifying efforts by the women's squad in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 and by the men's team in 2008 and 2010.
The Nittany Lion women's squad placed 13th at the 2011 NCAA Cross Country Championships - the highest finish in nearly two decades. In fact, the Nittany Lion women have enjoyed five-straight NCAA-qualifying performances in cross country, capturing top-15 standings on three out of five occasions.
Individually, the Penn State women have captured two Big Ten Cross Country titles (Bridget Franek, 2009, and Caitlin Lane, 2011). The Penn State men have been represented in seven of the past eight years at the NCAA Cross Country Championships either by an individual or as a team, including four-time qualifier Vince McNally.
During the 2013 season, Matt Fischer posted the highest finish at the Big Ten Cross Country Championships in school history (third) and placed fourth at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional to qualify for the NCAA Cross Country Championships. At the 2013 NCAA Cross Country Championships, Fischer went onto finish 78th.
During his first season at the helm of the Penn State cross country program, the Nittany Lions continued their storied success. Fifth-year senior Matt Fischer led the Nittany Lion men throughout the 2014 campaign as he finished eighth at the Big Ten meet, won the Mid-Atlantic Regional and advanced to the NCAA Cross Country Championships for the second-straight year. He ended his Penn State cross country career with a 167th-place finish at the NCAA meet. Fischer garnered second team All-Big Ten honors and was named the Mid-Atlantic Men's Cross Country Athlete of the Year.
The 2014 women's team was led by the freshmen duo of Elizabeth Chikotas and Jillian Hunsberger. The duo were consistently near the front of the Nittany Lion pack during the 2014 season. Chikotas was the Big Ten Women's Cross Country Freshman of the Year for her 15th-place finish at the Big Ten meet and Hunsberger qualified for the NCAA Championships with her 11th-place finish at the Mid-Atlantic Regional. In her NCAA Cross Country Championships debut, Hunsberger finished 161st.
Gondak has also been widely recognized by the coaching community as he was named United States Track and Field/Cross Country Association (USTFCCCA) Mid-Atlantic Region Assistant Coach of the Year during the indoor season in 2009 and again for his efforts during the 2010 outdoor season. Gondak swept the Mid-Atlantic awards in 2013, winning the USTFCCCA Mid-Atlantic Men's Assistant Coach of the Year award during both the indoor and outdoor seasons. He was most recently named USTFCCCA Mid-Atlantic Men's Assistant Coach of Year during the 2014 indoor track & field season.
2014 Recap... The 2014 season featured record-breaking performances for Gondak and his middle distance/distance contingent. After setting the second-fastest collegiate time in the distance medley relay (9:26.60) in 2013, the quartet of Brannon Kidder, Brandon Bennett-Green, Za'Von Watkins and Robby Creese returned in 2014 to top their own mark. On Jan 31, the foursome set a facility, meet, and Penn State DMR record with their time of 9:26.59, which was the top-time in the NCAA during the 2013-14 season.
The distance medley relay quartet of Watkins, Br. Bennett-Green, Ryan Brennan and Kidder won Penn State's third-straight Big Ten title with their time of 9:45.48.
Along with being a member of the school record-setting DMR team, Creese ran the second-fastest 1,000-meter time (2:20.65) in the NCAA during the 2013-14 season.
At the Big Ten Championships, Kidder captured his second-straight 800-meter run title with his time of 1:49.52. He then followed up his 800-meter run title with a runner-up finish in the 1,500-meter run (3:44.95) at the 2014 Big Ten Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
Kidder not only had major success at the Big Ten meets, but moved up in the record books as well. During the indoor season, he ran a sub-4:00 mile twice (Penn State National and the UW Husky Classic). Along with his time of 3:58.49, which is tied for second in the Penn State record books, he ran 1:47.45 to move into third all-time in the Penn State record books.
Watkins garnered first team All-America honors in the 800-meter run (1:50.23) as he finished seventh overall at the 2014 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships. Watkins was also a member of the 11th-place DMR team at the 2014 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships.
Along with Kidder, Watkins moved near the top of the Penn State record books as well. Watkins moved into fifth all-time in the indoor 800 as he posted a time of 1:48.11 at the Sykes & Sabock Challenge Cup.
Leigha Anderson and Tori Gerlach also posted top times on the track during the 2013-14 school year. Anderson went onto win the 10,000-meter run (33:52.32) at the Penn Relays and Tori Gerlach won the Big Ten title in the 3,000-meter run with her time of 9:10.76, which moved her into second all-time at Penn State.
Fischer, Gerlach and Kidder represented the Penn State distance/mid-distance program at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. At the NCAA East Regional, the Nittany Lions posted solid results to advance to Eugene, Ore. Fischer finished fifth in the 5,000-meter run (14:11.57), Gerlach ran a personal-best time of 10:03.55 in the 3,000-meter steeplechase to place seventh and Kidder clocked in at 3:45.72 to place seventh in the 1,500-meter run.
School Records... Along with the men's distance medley relay record falling in 2014, Kidder and Marta Klebe set school records during the 2014 outdoor track & field season.
Kidder broke a 27-year-old 1,500-meter run school record as he posted a time of 3:38.82 at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational at Stanford. On the women's side, Klebe ran a time of 4:15.20 at the 2014 Big Ten Track & Field Championships to take down the 1,500-meter run school record that was set in 1993 (Startare, 4:16.96).
Academic Success... Under Coach Gondak, Penn State student-athletes have found great success in the classroom. The Penn State women's cross country team tallied a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 3.44 during the 2013 cross country season, which earned them All-Academic honors from the USTFCCCA.
Twelve Penn State distance student-athletes were named to the Big Ten's Distinguished Scholar list for the 2013-14 school year. To qualify you must have at least a 3.7 GPA for the previous year. Three of the 12 student-athletes posted a perfect 4.0 GPA. Since his time on campus, Penn State track & field has garnered 235 All-Academic Big Ten Track & Field honors and 118 All-Academic Big Ten Cross Country Honors.
In the Big Ten... Since joining the conference in 2006, Gondak has coached a total of 22 Big Ten Champions, including 10 of the last 13 winners in the 800. The Nittany Lions have also been consistent at the conference level in the relays, with the DMR winning three-straight Big Ten titles (2012-14).
The Nittany Lions have been highly recognized under Gondak's watch, as Penn State has earned a total of four Big Ten Freshman of the Year citations since 2010. Casimir Loxsom was the first Nittany Lion to earn the honor, winning after an outdoor 800-meter victory as a freshman in 2010. Creese swept the honors during the indoor and outdoor campaigns in 2012, while Kidder was named the conference's top rookie during the 2013 indoor season.
Penn Relays Success... Gondak and the Nittany Lions have become a fixture on the podium at Penn Relays, taking top honors in the sprint medley relay in 2011 and 2012, in addition to a victory in the 4x800 in 2012. The first sprint medley title came in 2011, marking Penn State's first Penn Relays win since 1987. The relay would also clock a school-record 3:17.10 in the effort. The same year, Gondak led the Nittany Lions to a second-place finish in the 4x800-meter relay (Lionel Williams, Samuel Borchers, Loxsom, and Ryan Foster) in an epic battle at Penn Relays, where the team clocked 7:12.90 - the seventh-fastest time in collegiate history. The Nittany Lions' 2012 4x800 victory was the first by a Penn State squad since 1987.
The Lions continued to excel in 2013, taking top honors in both the distance medley relay and the 4x800. The Nittany Lion distance medley relay ran 9:24.68 with Robby Creese holding off Oregon and Villanova for the win; Loxsom also split 1:46 on the relay. With his performances Loxsom was named the Penn Relays Athlete of the Meet.
In 2014, a 7:18.99 finish in the 4x800m Championship of America event earned a runner-up status for the quartet of Wade Endress, Watkins, Ryan Brennan, and Kidder.
Outstanding Athletes Coached... Over his career, Gondak has coached some of the Nittany Lions' most prolific athletes, including four-time Big Ten Champion Ryan Foster. Foster capped his Penn State career in 2011, setting a then-school-record 3:58.49 for the indoor mile, and going on to finish third in the event at the NCAA Indoor Championships. The former Nittany Lion excelled under Gondak's watch, ending up with a total of three All-America finishes - including two bronze-medal efforts - to go along with numerous Penn State records. In fact, Foster was at the helm of a banner middle distance relay in Nittany Lion history, which featured three All-America finishes in the same race. Foster led the way in third, followed by Owen Dawson in eighth and Lionel Williams in 11th. In fact, Gondak's charges hold all of the top-five indoor 800 marks in the Penn State record books, with Loxsom on top at 1:46.98, Foster at 1:47.32, Kidder at 1:47.45, Dawson at 1:47.77, and Watkins in fifth at 1:48.11.
All told, Foster owns one of the more impressive PR ranges on the Nittany Lions record books, boasting career bests of 1:46.78 in the 800, all the way to his 3:58.49 mile PR. Foster also rates second in the Penn State record books in the 1,000 at 2:19.60. Foster and Dawson went 1-2 in the 800 at the 2009 Big Ten Indoor Track & Field Championships. Foster again led the charge in the 800 at the 2009 Big Ten Outdoor Track & Field Championships as the Nittany Lions finished 1-3-4.
Loxsom also enjoyed one of the most outstanding middle distance careers in Nittany Lion history, including a school-record run of 1:45.28 in the 800 during the 2011 season. The effort bettered Randy Moore's long-standing school best 1:45.96, which had stood since 1985. The same year, Loxsom would place fourth in a blistering 800-meter final at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, running 1:45.31. Gondak would also guide a then-freshman Loxsom to a sizzling 1:16.92 for 600-meters in 2010, which formerly stood as World Junior (Under-19) Best. During the 2013 indoor season, Loxsom set the American Collegiate record in the 600 (1:15.79) and his time of 1:15.42 in the 600 is the fastest for an American in all conditions.
Loxsom would go on to post an impressive victory in the event at the USATF Junior Championships and advance to the IAAF World Junior Championships. Loxsom would post a silver-medal finish at the World Junior event, clocking 1:46.57. Loxsom's finish was the highest-ever finish by a U.S. athlete in a distance event at the world junior competition. He also posted runner-up finishes in the 800 at both the indoor and outdoor NCAA meets.
Gondak has also been instrumental in the development of senior Creese, and junior Kidder. Creese wasted no time in making a mark on the Penn State record books, running 2:19.53 to set Collegiate and American Junior Records in the 1000 meters during his freshman campaign in 2012.
Kidder showed outstanding promise bettering the sub-4:00 mile barrier during the indoor season, going 3:59.48 to become just the fourth sub-4:00 miler in Nittany Lion history. Gondak has guided three of the four outstanding milers. Kidder's success would continue during the outdoor season, as the rookie clocked a sizzling 1:46.87 for the 800 at the USATF Senior Championships. Kidder would also place third in the 800 at the NCAA Outdoor Championships as a freshman.
Kidder and Loxsom went 2-3 in the 800-meters at the 2013 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, which is the first time since 1948 two of the top-three finishers were from the same school.
The 2013 Big Ten Indoor Track & Field Championships featured the Penn State men sweeping the middle distance events, including four runners in the finals of the 800.
International Coaching Info... During the summer of 2014, Gondak coached the U.S. men's distance squad at the North America, Central America and Caribbean (NACAC) U-23 Championships. Under the guidance of Gondak, the U.S. men's distance team won two gold, four silver and three bronze medals.
Prior to Penn State ... Prior to Penn State, Gondak spent nearly eight seasons at the University of Kentucky before moving to Georgia Tech in 2006. As an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for the Wildcat middle distance/distance runners, Gondak oversaw 25 All-America finishes in his event area, while 19 athletes earned All-Southeastern Conference (SEC) honors. Prior to working at Kentucky, Gondak was the cross country and assistant track and field coach at Georgia Tech from 1995-96, and Toledo from 1996-98.
Gondak started out as a walk-on athlete at Syracuse and quickly improved, qualifying for the IC4A Championships as a sophomore, junior and senior in the distance-medley relay and mile run. During his senior year, he was placed on scholarship and named captain of the cross country program. Gondak graduated summa cum laude as the valedictorian of the civil engineering program.
Coaching Honors... 2014 Mid-Atlantic Region Indoor Men's Assistant of Coach of the Year 2013 Mid-Atlantic Region Indoor Men's Assistant of Coach of the Year 2013 Mid-Atlantic Region Outdoor Men's Assistant of Coach of the Year 2010 Mid-Atlantic Region Outdoor Assistant of Coach of the Year 2009 Mid-Atlantic Region Assistant of Coach of the Year
Outstanding Athletes Coached... Robby Creese 2013 NCAA Indoor Runner-Up (DMR) 2x USTFCCCA First Team All-American Collegiate 1,000-Meter Record Holder (2:19.53) 3x Big Ten Champion Two-Time Big Ten Freshman of the Year 4x Penn State School Record Holder
Owen Dawson NCAA All-American (800m) 2009 Big Ten Runner Up (Indoor 800m) 2009 Big Ten Bronze Medalist (Outdoor 800m)
Ryan Foster 3x NCAA All-American 2x NCAA Bronze Medalist 4x Big Ten 800-Meter Champion 3x USTFCCCA Mid-Atlantic Track Athlete of the Year Penn State Record Holder Australian National Indoor Record Holder (800m, 1000m)
Brannon Kidder 2013 NCAA Indoor Runner Up (DMR) 2013 NCAA Outdoor Bronze Medalist (800m) 2x USTFCCCA First Team All-American 4x Big Ten Champion 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year USATF Senior Semi-finalist (800m) 2013 Millrose Games Champion (4x800) 2014 USTFCCCA Mid-Atlantic Region Indoor Track Athlete of the Year
Marta Klebe 2013 Big Ten Silver Medalist (1500m) 2013 NCAA First Round Qualifier 2x Penn State Record Holder (1,500 & Outdoor DMR)
Casimir Loxsom 6x NCAA All-American 6x Big Ten Champion American Collegiate Record Holder (600m, 1:15.79) All-Conditions American Record Holder (600m, 1:15.42) 2013 Penn Relays - Collegiate Athlete of the Relays 2013 Big Ten Indoor Track Athlete of the Championships 2013 Big Ten Indoor Track Athlete of the Year 9x Penn State Record Holder USATF Junior Champion (800m) IAAF World Junior Silver Medalist (800m) 2010 Big Ten Freshman of the Year 4x USTFCCCA Mid-Atlantic Region Track Athlete of the Year
Mark Miller 2008 NCAA Qualifier 2008 Big Ten Champion (Indoor 800 meters) 2006 Big Ten Champion (Outdoor 800 meters) Four-Time Big Ten Medalist