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By Zach Reagan, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State track and field preseason training is officially underway and the program is nearing the start of its indoor season. GoPSUsports.com caught up with jumps and multi-events coaches Fritz Spence and Kevin Kelly to get a preview of this year's athletes.
Coach Spence enters his tenth campaign with the Nittany Lion track and field program, and is looking forward to seeing the women's jumps and multi-events groups doing well. "All of the event disciplines have been very successful in training and in the weight room," said Spence.
The Nittany Lion have returning women athletes in the high jump and triple jump events, and have added some freshmen to round out the group. Notable women jumpers and multi-event athletes under Spence's tutelage are senior Ahmenah Richardson (Philadelphia, Pa.), juniors Dannielle Gibson (Nassau, Bahamas), Tal Ben-Artiz (Kibbutz Gazit, Israel) and freshman Madeline Holmberg (Greensburg, Pa.).
The veteran Richardson qualified for the NCAA East prelims in the high jump in the last outdoor season. She looks to lead the jumping group this season and improve on a personal best in the high jump of 5-11.25 feet which put her into a tie for second in the all-time Penn State record books. Gibson qualified for the NCAA East Prelims in the long jump and the triple jump in the last outdoor season after solid performances at the 2014 Big Ten Outdoor Championships in both events.
The versatile Ben-Artiz competes in the pentathlon and heptathlon events for the team. She set a pentathlon personal-best at the 2014 Big Ten Indoor Championships with a score of 3,861 points and a heptathlon personal-best at the heptathlon with a score of 4,937 points.
Holmberg is ready to make an impact after an impressive high school career in which she was a four-time PIAA state champion (2013: 4x100 relay, 2014: long jump, 300-meter hurdles, 4x100-meter relay) and 2014 PIAA Women's Track Athlete of the Year.
Coach Kelly in his fourth year at Penn State believes that the group he coaches is formidable in all areas. "For the first time since I've been here, we have strength in all event areas that I coach," said Kelly. Also, several athletes have the ability to compete in multiple events.
The Nittany Lions have depth at pole vault according to Kelly. There are five female pole-vaulters in junior and NCAA East Prelims qualifier Lexi Masterson (Jeannette, Pa.), junior Kasey Kemp (Irwin, Pa.), junior Erin Knabe (Voorhees, N.J.), sophomore Hannah Mulhern (Altoona, Pa.) and freshman Megan Fry (State College, Pa.).
As for the jumps, senior Brian Leap (Bellwood, Pa.) finished second in the triple jump with a personal-best leap of 52-6.75 feet at the Big Ten Indoor Championships last year and earned second team All-American honors at the 2015 NCAA Indoor Championships.
Sophomore Bryce Williams (State College, Pa.), who qualified for the 2015 NCAA East Prelims during the outdoor season in the triple jump, "has just looked beyond what he looked like at any point last year," said Kelly.
Senior Robert Cardina (Lancaster, Pa.) returns this season for the Nittany Lions. At the 2014 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, Cardina earned first team All-America honors as he placed eighth with his lifetime-best score of 7,666 points. That score made him the first Penn State student-athlete to be named an All-American in the decathlon since 1998. It was also the highest Penn State finish in the decathlon at the NCAA Championships since Dave Masgay placed seventh in 1987.
The Nittany Lions have talented multi-event freshmen athletes in Luke Rarig (Catawissa, Pa.) and Alex McCord (Lititz, Pa.). Rarig was a five-time PIAA State medal winner and 2015 PIAA 110-meter hurdle state champion
Coach Kelly said that the high jump has been a strength of the program for years. Freshmen Devin Bradham (Williamstown, N.J.) and Chisom Ifedi (Columbus, Ohio) look to keep that tradition going throughout their Penn State careers. Both freshmen have been pleasant surprises according to Kelly. Bradham was a three-time New Jersey state champion in the high jump and Ifedi was a gold medalist at the 2014 USA Track & Field Junior Championships in the high jump. Junior Malik Moffett (Erie, Pa.) looks to give the Nittany Lions a boost at high and long jump as well.
Penn State track and field athletes are continuing to train and prepare for the first official competition of the season next Saturday. The indoor season kicks off with the annual intrasquad Blue-White Meet on Dec. 12. Following the Blue-White Meet, is the opening home Penn State Relays on Jan. 9.
For more information on Penn State Track and Field visit www.GoPSUsports.com or follow the team on Twitter @PennStateTFXC.