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Nittany Lions kick off Big Ten Championships on Friday
Spend an afternoon with Coach Fritz Spence and the Nittany Lions women's jumps squad
Spence shares inspiring story about his battle and the Penn State family
Fritz Spence is in his 10th year coaching the Nittany Lion women's jumpers and multi-event athletes after outstanding results over the past nine seasons. In his first nine years with the Nittany Lions, Spence has overseen 14 All-America efforts, including Gayle Hunter, who claimed a total of nine All-America certificates in the multi-events. Hunter is the indoor school record holder in the long jump 20-11.00 (6.37m) and pentathlon (4342), outdoor school record in the Heptathlon (5797) and 4x400m (3.27.69) relay under Spence's watch.
Under the guidance of coach Spence, Dannielle Gibson tallied a third-place finish in the triple jump. Gibson, a sophomore, scored six points for Penn State with her leap of 42-3.50 during the 2015 Big Ten Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Gibson would also finish fourth in the long jump with her personal-best jump of 20-2.25 - Her distance of 20-2.25 ranks 10th all-time at Penn State – and was a member of the eighth-place 4x100-meter relay recording a time of 47.19.
Gibson would go on to qualify for the NCAA East Prelims in the long jump and the triple jump , finishing 31st in the triple jump (40-4.75), and 44th in the long jump (18-2.5).
In the vertical jumps, Ahmenah Richardson cleared a height of 5-9.25 in the women's high jump for a sixth-place finish during the Big Ten Outdoor Track & Field Championships, while finishing ninth with her height of 5-8 during the Big Ten Indoor Track & Field Championships.
Richardson qualified for the NCAA East Prelims in the high jump, finishing 26th with her height of 5-7.
The Philadelphia native began the year with a second-place finish at the Florida Relays with her height of 5-8, tallied a personal-best height of 5-11.25 to finish second at the Penn Relays - her height of 5-11.25 is tied for second all-time at Penn State – and finished second at the Kehoe Twilight Meet with her height of 5-8 during the outdoor season.
Richardson began the indoor season with a third-place finish at the Penn State Relays clearing a height of 5-8.75, placed third at the Penn State National Invitational with her height of 5-8, and tallied an indoor personal-best height of 5-9.75 to finish fourth at the Tyson Invitational.
Her mark of 5-9.75 is tied for fourth all-time at Penn State.
Spence also guided Brittney Howell to an outstanding 2014 outdoor campaign, highlighted by an outstanding long jump at the NCAA first round Championships. Howell also turned in a pair of scoring performances at the Big Ten level, finishing third in the long jump and ninth in the high jump at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships. Howell would also post the top long jump mark among Nittany Lions during the 2014 campaign - going 20-4.50 (6.21m) during the Indoor season and 20-10.75 (6.37m) during the outdoor season. The performance ranks fifth indoors and third outdoors in the all-time Penn State standings.
Coming into her own in 2014 was freshman high jumper India McCoy. McCoy notched a lifetime-best clearance of 5-10.00 (1.78m) during the outdoor season.
McCoy along with fellow protégée Ahmenah Richardson who in 2014 made a trip to the Big Ten medal stand for a third-place finish at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships.
Also, coming into her own in 2014 was freshman long and triple jumper Dannielle Gibson. Gibson had an outstanding freshman year achieving a lifetime-best leap of 42-2.00 (12.80m) in the triple jump and 20-1.00 (6.11m) in the long jump during the outdoor season.
Gibson along with fellow jumper Kaitlyn Lopez who in 2014 put up a lifetime best of 39-5.25 (12.02m) in the triple jump and 18-10.50 (5.82m) in the long jump.
During the 2014 season, freshman multi-eventer Tal Ben-Artzi had an outstanding indoor seasoning putting up a life-time best score of 3861 in the indoor pentathlon.
Prior to 2014...
Spence oversaw marked improvements from senior Marlene Ricketts, who advanced to the NCAA Indoor Championships in the triple jump in 2013, coming home with USTFCCCA Second Team All-America status. Ricketts also shined at the conference level, finishing second in the triple jump at the Big Ten Indoor Championships to go along with a fourth-place standing in the long jump. Ricketts ended her senior season with an indoor lifetime-best effort of 42-4.75 (12.92m) and outdoor lifetime-best effort of 42-2.75 (12.87m) in the triple jump - the second and fifth farthest performance in school history.
Spence took on a new coaching role in 2012, overseeing the Nittany Lion men's and women's javelin throwers, including All-America finishers Laura Loht and Lauren Kenney. The Nittany Lions javelinists had a stellar season under Spence, beginning with a victory at Kenney at the prestigious Penn Relays Carnival. During the championship portion of the season, Spence guided the duo to a one-two finish at the Big Ten Championships with Loht taking top honors. The Nittany Lions were thoroughly impressive at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, mounting a three-four finish including a PR toss from Loht at 169-4 (51.92) for third, and a lifetime-best 167-10 (51.17) for Kenney in fourth.
Along with Loht, Kenney, and Eli Skinner, Spence guided six athletes to the NCAA Eastern Preliminary Round, with Marlene Ricketts and Tanaya Lloyd representing Penn State in the women's triple jump and Erika Morgan competing in the women's high jump. Lloyd and Ricketts held their own against the top triple jumpers in the country at the event, placing 14th and 15th, respectively. Spence helped Lloyd, a 2012 graduate, to an outstanding Nittany Lion career overall, as Lloyd finished up with the Lions with the fourth-best performance in Penn State history at 42-3.50 (12.89).
Spence's athletes recorded an outstanding medal haul at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships in 2011, scoring podium finishes in all four horizontal events. Along with Hanif Johnson's bronze-medal finish in the triple jump, junior Doug Moppert added a third-place finish in the men's long jump, while Tanaya Lloyd claimed runner-up status in the women's triple jump, and Bianca Fung posted a third-place finish in the women's long jump.
The 2009 season was a also banner year for Spence and the Nittany Lion jumps squad with a trio of Lions qualifying for the 2009 NCAA Outdoor Championships, including Clarence Smith in the triple jump, Hunter in the heptathlon and long jump, and first-time NCAA qualifier Fung in the long jump. Indoors, Spence guided Hunter to a runner-up finish in the pentathlon - which tied the highest ever finish by a Nittany Lion at NCAA Indoor - while also overseeing Hunter's school record leap of 20-11.25 (6.38) in the long jump during the multi-event competition.
At the NCAA Regionals...
At the regional level, Spence led a total of five athletes to appearances at the NCAA East Regional Championships, including Hunter in the long jump, triple jump, and 100-meter hurdles, Fung in the long jump, and Smith, along with teammates Jay Pagana, and Johnson, in the triple jump. Throughout the year, Hunter set a trio of school records under Spence's watch, scoring 4342 to reset her own pentathlon mark, and posting a total of 5797 to better her own school standard in the heptathlon. Hunter would also earn Mid-Atlantic Region Field Athlete of the Year honors during the indoor and outdoor seasons under Spence's watch.
At the Big Ten Championships...
On the Big Ten stage, Spence guided Smith to triple jump titles at both the indoor and outdoor conference championships, while leading his men's triple jumpers to a one-three-four showing at the outdoor conference meet. Indoors, Spence-coached athletes recorded a total of four scoring performances, while adding another four outdoors. On the women's side, Spence led Hunter to top three finishes in the indoor pentathlon, and outdoor heptathlon, as well as scoring finishes in the indoor long and triple jumps, as well as the outdoor triple jump.
Overall, Spence also oversaw a total of six top-eight scoring finishes in the women's events during the Big Ten Indoor Championships, and four during the outdoor conference meet. In 2008, Spence led Hunter to a handful of All-America finishes, including fifth-place efforts in the NCAA pentathlon and heptathlon, as well as a fifth-place standing in the outdoor long jump. On the men's side, Spence saw Smith to an All-America finish and a Big Ten title in the triple jump. Spence's efforts were decidedly noteworthy, as he was named Mid-Atlantic Men's Assistant Coach of the Year during both the indoor and outdoor seasons.
Spence's athletes proved to be a big part of Penn State's scoring effort at the 2008 Big Ten Indoor Championships including a silver-medal finish from Taylor in the men's long jump, and bronze-medal standings from Hunter in the pentathlon, long jump, and triple jump. Spence's contingent was just as successful at the outdoor conference meet, including a two-three-four finish in the triple jump from Smith, Taylor, and Pagana, while the Penn State women provided four scoring finishes, led by Bettis in third.
During his first year in Happy Valley, Spence led Hunter to NCAA appearances in the pentathlon indoors and heptathlon outdoors, where she posted an eighth-place finish, earning All-America honors.
Prior to Penn State...
Prior to coming to Penn State, Spence coached 14 conference champions, 26 all-conference performers, 22 regional qualifiers, 10 NCAA qualifiers, and three All-Americans at Missouri State. Spence, who was named NCAA Women's Outdoor Track and Field Mideast Region Assistant Coach of the Year for Jumps/Combined Events in 2006, was a part of a coaching staff that won four Missouri Valley Conference Team Championships in both the indoor (2003 and `04) and outdoor (2002 and `03) seasons. The team also finished three times as the conference runner-up for the team championship (indoor 2002, outdoor 2004 and `06).
Spence and his wife, Teri, reside in State College. The couple has three daughters - Ashlie, Keiva, and Ale'ka - and one son - Ashton.
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