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By Alyssa Palfey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Preseason is officially winding down, as the Penn State Nittany Lions cross country teams travel the short distance to Lock Haven University on September 1st for the annual Dolan Duals to open up the 2017 season.
The Dolan Duals provide the men's and women's teams the opportunity to ease into the season. The competition is only a dual between Penn State and Lock Haven, instead of going into a huge invitational right off the bat.
"I've been very pleased with how our team's been training over the last three weeks. Lock Haven has always provided us with a good start to the season," said head cross country coach John Gondak. "As we kinda get the rust off the legs, it's a nice, flat 4k course and suits us well as we prepare to open at home next weekend with the Spiked Shoe Invitational."
"I love that we get to start with a little bit of a smaller meet, we're not exactly getting thrown right into the wolves like some teams do. I'm hoping that everyone gets a confidence booster and everyone has fun tomorrow," said senior captain Tim McGowan.
This meet is also a great way for the freshman and new members of the team to get accustomed to the new college cross country season.
"I think this race is really good for the newcomers and the freshman to really get their first college race out of the way. It's a really nice way to do a rust buster and be like, 'hey it's cross country season, get into it, it's grass and it's a lot harder than track,'" said senior captain Jillian Hunsberger.
One of the main ways for cross country teams to score the most points is to run as close to a pack as possible. All preseason the men and women have been running this way, and they are hoping this strategy follows them into the race tomorrow to get the most points as possible.
"I hope everyone just likes running together. We kinda use each other during the race, not trying to one-up each other or beat each other, McGowan said. "I just want everyone to finish the race feeling like they had a really good day, and wasn't really using too much."
The best way for the team to run as pack is to stay together for the first part of the race, then start to challenge themselves as the race winds to an end.
"As we told our team today, our goal tomorrow is to run together as a pack the first half of the race and test themselves after that. They've been doing really well with that in practice, so hopefully they can continue this at the competition tomorrow night," said Gondak.
"I'd really just like us to keep it together for the first mile, be a little more conservative, then just see what everybody has the second half of the race or the last 2400 (meters) left of the race," said Hunsberger.
This race is the only tune-up before the Nittany Lions host their first home meet of the season, the Spiked Shoe Invitational, so it is a chance for them to ease into the season before the larger invitational starts.
"Tomorrow we're not trying to do anything too crazy, just kinda have a good effort, but still keep in mind that it is really early. I think I just want everyone to have fun running together and hopefully learn some things for the end of the season," said McGowan.
It is still early in the season, but it's never too early to set some goals. Both sides of the team have some high aspirations this year.
"I'm looking forward to Big Tens the most this season. I'm really looking forward to seeing how we do there. I think we have a really good team, so I want to see what happens," said Hunsberger.
"I want the team to do better. This is my last year so personally, I want to be able to leave Penn State pretty happy," added McGowan.