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Head Coach John Gondak Opening Statement
Thank you for having us here today. Excited to get the 2016 Cross Country season underway. We have the tale of two teams, so to speak, with our program this fall. Our women's team is coming off of Winning the Big Ten Championship last year and the Mid-Atlantic Regional and advancing to the NCAA Championships for the, I believe sixth time in the last seven years. Finished their with a 16th place finish and we return three very decorated leaders up in the front with one of your team captains who's here- Tessa Barrett that was All-American in cross country last year, Elizabeth Chikotas, and Jullian Hunsberger. Difference being with the women we lost Tori Gerlach who was one of our top runners last year to graduation. So last year we needed fifth person to step up and be a game player. This year on the women's side we're looking for a fourth and fifth. We have Julie Kocjancic and Victoria Crawford and Greta Lindsley who are athletes that can fill in that role for us this year. It's still early in the training season for us to tell who that'll be. So, the women come in with a lot of experience whereas on the men's side, they're coming off a fifth place finish in the Mid-Atlantic Regional last year and sixth place at the Big Ten. However, I believe we only have two athletes that ran at the Big Ten meet last year that come back this year for our roster. A very young team and a very accomplished group of freshmen that have joined us this year, along with our some of our leaders. To my left here is Tim McGowan, one of our places scorers. He scored in the 5000m at the Outdoor Conference meet and he ran at the Big Ten championships last year in cross country. It is going to be a very youthful team on the men's side which can add some challenges. With coming out of high school, the athletes run 5000 meters and when they get to college they run 8000m and 10,000m. So, it can be an adjustment for them racing the longer distances, basically twice what they're used too in High School. So, we have a little bit of work to do on the men's side; but, with the kids we have in the program, we have some outstanding freshmen here that are going to be the main players over the years with some of our upper class like Tim here. Looking forward to getting things going. We had to Lock Haven next Friday to open up with our annual Duel with Lock Haven. Then come home for the Spike Shoe Invitational on September 10th. One of the things I'm really excited about thud year is our national open meet on the 14th of October. That meet has kind of died out a little bit over the past few years, with the larger meets like the Pre-National Invitational and the Wisconsin Invitational gathering a lot of the teams, kind of going to one location. The university, Athletic Department, I'm very thankful has given me resources to go out and try to grow that meet again and we've got an outstanding group of teams coming in. Including Texas and ole Miss and Villanova, Virginia, Virginia Tech and William and Mary .It's going to be one of the premiere competitions in the country again and we're going to continue to grow that. Obviously, we're excited to host the Mid-Atlantic Regional in cross country again in November. I think we got a great line up, two teams that are going to go out and fight hard to represent Penn State and do the best they can and we have a great season ahead of us.
Q: I'll start with against about some of our local State College athletes. You mentioned Victoria and Natasha as a freshmen this year. So, what are you expectations or what are your thoughts on them?
Coach: Well, for Victoria, this is her second year of Cross Country with us, actually second year of running cross country ever. She was a soccer player, started her college career playing soccer at Indian University then transferred here to run track. She had a successful year last year. Cross Country is a sport that takes some time to grow into and get used to. She was middle Distance runner and ran the 800 in high school which is two minutes and now you have to go out and race for 20, 21 22 minutes. So, it takes a little bit of learning how to be in that mind set for that period of time and she's come along away, she had a great fall. Natasha, I'm very pleased with. She had an outstanding spring last year running right at 5 minutes and making the final at the State championships in the 1600m. So, hopefully they can both contribute. Hannah Catalano is also from the State College, is in the program. We had our first team meeting yesterday with track and field as well and there are handful of State College athletes that are starting with us as freshmen. It's always great to have a connection with local athletes and to have them come here to contribute and be a part of things.
Q: You said you were looking for a fourth and fifth throughout the year. How does that process come about? Is it a meet by meet basis, how long does it take for you to find out who will step up in that place?
Coach: Really as it is, you practice every day and you kind of get your idea of where the runners are and how they're going to play out in terms of their racing. Then, you just try to foster them believing in themselves and having confidence. So, when they race they can get out there are believe that they can accomplish what we talk about, accomplishing in terms of team goals. It comes from just trying to put the right people together in practice in terms of pushing each other and maximizing their efforts there. Then, gaining their confidence so when they step on the race course and they're going out and battling for 22 minutes on the women's side, 25, 26 minutes for the men's side, they believe in what they're doing.
Q: Tessa, what do you do for an encore after last season?
Tessa Barrett: Looking forward to this year. Coach was saying we have a solid group of three runners. I think together as a team we can work tougher and especially do well at regionals and Big Ten's. For myself just hoping to get through and to have a healthy season and see how things play out. It's looking like it's going to get a great year.
Q: What are some things you guys concentrate on during the summer when you're training and not necessarily on campus?
Tim McGowan: A big thing that we try to stress with everyone is just staying together and communicating with everyone. We can't know for sure, we have a lot of guys that live all over the place. We have couple local guys, I'm from New York and I only know really connection with two other guys that are really close to me. We try to stay together, we have Facebook group going to see were everyone's at. When we get back in August we're pretty prepared for were everyone's at, trying to hit about 80 miles a week. I think we're a pretty close group. With the young guys coming in I think it's good for them to see that the upperclassmen are so close together.
Tessa Barrett: Like the men's team we're pretty spread out. We have a couple of runners from the State College area which is great. A lot of the summer I think we spend time just running individual, building up mileage, and getting really good solid base training in. The summers a really good time to rest and recuperate and get the strong strength work in. We always communicate with each other and we all know where we're at. It's sometimes fun when we try to meet up for runs on the weekend or for a long run. It's great to be became together and training together again.
Q: Just want to ask about Joe and Darrell and your thoughts on on what they did last week in Rio.
Coach: Obviously, very exciting to have Penn State Alumni as two of our three representatives at the Olympic Games in the shot put. I can remember Joe Kovacs' first year here. We red-shirted him. If I can recall right he had a hard time throwing over 50 ft; but, he really got himself together and had himself a great career here. It culminated here with four years ago finishing four place at the Olympic Trials. That dreaded fourth place. For Joe, it was huge PR and he was very excited for that day and that lead him to have the ability to be a sponsored athlete by Nike. He's really grown under Coach Art Venegas out in California. It's been really exciting to see his success over the last two to three years at the world stage and to win a silver medal it outstanding. Darrell again had an outstanding career here for us. Finished in a tie basically for the national Championship his senior year. It was really neat to see Joe Kovacs invite Darrell to take him under his wing out in California under Coach Art Venegas and to work together and have them both experience qualifying for the Olympic Team that day out in Eugene when they both made it - I got chills down my spine just seeing their excitement and all their hard years of work payoff. I know that Darrell probably wasn't as pleased with how his Rio experience was but first time on the big stage is a challenge. We tell our team here first time at a National Championship is always kind of their learning experience. Some people have success, some people struggle; but, as long as you take from it and become better for next time you go there then it's been worthwhile. So, it's really neat to see them and what they accomplish this year and hopefully they can continue to have more fun in the Diamond league the rest of the way.