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April 16, 2013
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion track and field/cross country programs were well recognized for both their academic and athletic achievements, Monday at the annual Student-Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB) Banquet at the Penn Stater. Sophomore Rachel Casciano (Wyomissing, Pa.) garnered one of the highest citations, being recognized with the "True Grit" Award. Elsewhere, the women's cross country squad earned the "Team GPA" award, which is presented to the varsity athletics team with the highest cumulative grade point average.
The "True Grit" Award is presented each year to a student-athlete, who has overcome serious obstacle or injury, and has continued to succeed in both the classroom and on the athletic field. Casciano has more than defined "True Grit" over the past nine months, having overcome a battle with thyroid cancer - persevering through treatment and surgery - and continuing to maintain nearly perfect grades in the classroom, and remain one of the most positive members of the women's track and field and cross country squads.
"It was an honor to present the True Grit award to Rachel," said Director and Head Coach of Track and Field/Cross Country Beth Alford-Sullivan. "She exemplifies the meaning of "True Grit," and I'm glad she was able to be recognized with this award. She's an outstanding young woman, student and athlete, and I'm so pleased she is recovering and doing well."
Despite the diagnosis in September, Casciano was determined to continue racing during the fall season. She was cleared for exercise and continued to compete, even making the Nittany Lions' travel squad for the Greater Louisville Classic at the end of September. The sophomore was then forced to leave school and return home for her scheduled surgery on October 5. Initially, she was scheduled for an outpatient procedure, but pre-surgery testing revealed that things were worse than expected - the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes - which turned an anticipated one hour surgery into a five-plus hour operation, in which doctors removed her entire thyroid and over 40 lymph nodes.
Despite missing nearly 30 days of class, Rachel still managed to end the fall with a perfect 4.0 for the semester. She currently has a 3.98 cumulative GPA in Advertising and Public Relations. Through it all, Casciano has continued to be a motivator for her teammates as they continued through the cross country season, and on to the NCAA Championships. She never complained. She never felt sorry for herself. She was never anything by a positive influence on her teammates, and was and continues to be the true definition of the "team player."
Just six months out from surgery, the Wyomissing, Pa., native is nearly back to form. After starting out by slowly increasing her mileage and spending time on the bike, she is now back to training full time, and ran her first race of the outdoor season at the Bison Outdoor Classic last weekend.
Academically, the women's cross country squad garnered top honors in the Team GPA standings, turning in a cumulative grade point average of 3.46 for the 2011-12 academic year. Led by senior captains Natalie Bower (Pleasant Unity, Pa.), Brooklyne Ridder (Cincinnati, Ohio), and Lindsey Graybill (Macungie, Pa.), the Nittany Lions were outstanding on the cross country course this past fall, posting a 14th-place finish at the NCAA Cross Country Championships - the squad's third Top 15 finish in the last four years.
"It was an exciting evening at the SAAB Banquet," continued Sullivan. "The women's cross country team excelled athletically and with top 15 finish, and an outstanding GPA, and I couldn't be more impressed with their achievements. Our men's cross country was a finalist for the award as well, and showed great success academically and athletically this past year. I am very pleased that our programs were so well represented among the award winners."
Women's cross country has garnered the Team GPA honor on a handful of occasions since the award's inception in 1988, claiming the overall citation for highest GPA in 1990, 1991, 1992, 2008, and 2013.
Individually, 11 Nittany Lion seniors were honored for the performance in the classroom over their Penn State careers, including Tyler Corkedale (West Windsor, N.J.), Mark Fuller (Camp Hill, Pa.), Tom Luff (Emmaus, Pa.), Aaron Nadolsky (Altoona, Pa.), David Patzer (Lansdale, Pa.), and Elijah Skinner (Jersey Shore, Pa.) from the men's cross country and track and field teams. On the women's side, Doris Anyanwu (Beltsville, Md.), Bower, Kelsey Couts (Powell, Ohio), Graybill, and Colleen Shannon (Andover, Mass.) received fourth-year senior recognition.
For more on Nittany Lion track and field/cross country, please log on to www.GoPSUsports.com.