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Aug 30, 2013
By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Since strapping up the laces for the first practice of the season on Wednesday last week, both the men's and women's cross country teams have been training with one goal in mind heading into the 2013 season - making progress each day.
Led by seniors Victoria Perri and Rebekka Simko, the women's cross country team begins the season ranked No. 11 in the United States Track and Field/Cross Country Coaches' Association (USTFCCCA) preseason poll.
"The women are poised and ready to maintain a top 15 finish. We've been at the nationals the last four years and had three top 15 finishes out of those years," said head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan. "They certainly don't want to be the team to take a step backwards. They are prepared for that. We have a good squad to be able to maintain that."
Even with such confidence in the women, Sullivan took note of a couple obstacles the ladies will have to weather to be successful during the 2013 season.
"I think it's going to be staying healthy," said Sullivan. "We've got some big shoes to fill when we lost two of our top five to graduation and both of them were kids that were four-year run nationals appearances."
Whereas the women's team was a "very simple answer" as Sullivan put it, the men's team encompasses heads into 2013 looking to be more consistent.
"On the guys' side, we've been kind of a hot and cold. We've been at NCAAs and we've missed getting to NCAAs," said Sullivan. "This is an exciting men's team and if they are able to capitalize on our competition through the regular season and set themselves up to get to NCAAs, they could be relatively dangerous once we get there."
"It's an adaptation. They've really have to take it relatively slow," said Sullivan. "Both Brannon and Robbie were redshirted their freshman years of cross country and really just trained alongside guys and got used to doing some of the training and some of the mileage."
"I think pulling from the leadership of some of the older guys, we are looking at a team that is poised to, for the next several years, be able to continue to make an impact in the region and in the Big Ten," said Scarpello. "We've always had a solid long-term goal and every year the goal has been the same, get to Nationals, and this year we are going to be careful about what specifically we want to do in the long term and just focus on the process."
With both the men's and women's teams anxiously awaiting the commencement of their seasons on Sept. 6 at the annual Dolan Duals at Lock Haven, it is important to note that one of the benefits of being a runner for Penn State cross country is the fact that Happy Valley houses arguably one of the toughest courses in the region.
"The home meets are great," said Scarpello. "There's a lot of pride in knowing that of all the cross country courses I have ran in college, we definitely have the toughest course."
Cross country is a unique sport in that the summer months are very independent for the runners. It is up to the athletes to continue to train and follow the right diets to be prepared for the upcoming season.
"A lot of our sport - I mean obviously it's a really tough, grit sport - you've got to log the miles, put in the training and put in the up-front work," said Sullivan. "You also mentally have to be a very competitive person and a very sharp person."
For now the runners are in luck because Coach Sullivan pointed out the fit shape that the runners were noticeably able to maintain over the summer months.
But for Sullivan it is not about how fit the teams are now, it is about how fit the runners are when November rolls around with NCAAs just beyond the next mile marker.