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NEW ORLEANS - A year after posting a 25th-place finish at the 2013 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, the Penn State women's cross country team enters the 2014 season ranked No. 29, according to the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) preseason poll.
During the 2013 campaign, the women placed fourth at the Big Ten Cross Country Championships, took third at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional and tallied a 25th-place finish at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, which was their fifth-straight appearance at the NCAA meet.
The women return five runners from last year's NCAA squad. The 2014 contingent is led by the senior duo of Leigha Anderson (Carlisle, Pa.) and Katie Rodden (Ardmore, Pa.). Anderson and Rodden were both named All-Region last year in cross country as they finished in the top-25 at the Mid-Atlantic Regional. Anderson claimed 12th (20:21) and Rodden finished 19th (20:42). Anderson and Rodden are also looking towards their third consecutive trip to the NCAA meet.
Juniors Tori Gerlach (Perkasie, Pa.) and Sarah Jane Underwood (Alexandria, Va.) mixed with sophomore Stephanie Aldrich (West Chester, Pa.) give the Nittany Lions experience up front as they were all on last year's NCAA team.
With the mix of youth and experience, the 2014 cross country season should be one for the record books for the Penn State women.
At the regional level, the women were picked to finish fourth and the men were selected fifth by the USTFCCCA. The men are led by fifth-year senior Matt Fischer (Kennett Square, Pa.), who posted a third-place finish at the 2013 Big Ten Cross Country Championships and qualified for his first trip to the NCAA meet with a fourth-place finish at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional. Fischer ended the 2013 cross country season with a 78th-place finish at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships.
The Penn State cross country runners can qualify for the 2014 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships on their home turf as they host the 2014 NCAA Division I Mid-Atlantic Cross Country Regional on Nov. 14, at the Penn State Blue/White Golf Course.
The 2014 cross country regular season commences next Friday with the Dolan Duals in Lock Haven, Pa.
For more on Nittany Lion cross country, log onto www.GoPSUsports.com or follow the team on Twitter @PennStateTFXC.