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By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With all of the Penn State fall sports teams currently riding an 11-0 mark to start this season, the men's and women's cross country teams will look to continue the winning streak as they begin their 2014 regular season this weekend at the Dolan Duals in Lock Haven.
Last year, the women's team won its race with a perfect score, and the group enters the 2014 season ranked No. 29 according to the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.
Freshman Hannah Catalano will be one of the runners competing for the women's squad this weekend, marking her collegiate running debut. She is one of eight freshmen added to the roster this year that has spent the summer transitioning from high school and rigorously training for their first collegiate season.
"In college you do a lot more miles. I wasn't quite used to all the mileage and it was definitely a big jump," Catalano said. "It took a little bit to adapt to it but, now, after training all summer, I got used it and it feels like a routine."
She spent all summer training with veteran runners on the team in hopes of becoming a top-contributing factor.
"The seniors and juniors and all the upperclassmen have really set the pace," Catalano said. "They make sure we aren't trying to sprint past each other so that we are actually getting an effect rather than tiring ourselves out. They have really been leaders."
The upperclassmen have set the bar high for Catalano but she is fearless and prepared to give it her all.
"I'm so excited," Catalano said. "It'll be a lot different than our races in high school because there will be so much more competition even if it's a small race but I'm ready for what lies ahead."
On the men's side, five Penn State runners finished in the top 10 at the Dolan Duals last year.
Alongside an incredibly talented group of young men, freshman Will Cather will run this weekend for the Nittany Lions and he has goals set and resilience ready.
"I'm really excited for it. It's my first collegiate race and I'm going to give it my all out there," Cather said. "[I'm going to] try and place top 12 to make it onto the travel team this year and I'm just going to go for it."
Cather says he is in great shape after training all summer with the veteran runners who have been mentoring him through the transition.
"Camp went really well. The guys around me have really helped," Cather said. "They told me `You're a freshman. Take it one step at a time and do what you can.' They've been great."
Both Catalano and Cather have one very important factor in common - they are both natives of the State College area and they have grown up their entire lives dreaming of one day running for Penn State.
To them, this weekend is more than just another race.
"[This is] a dream come true," said Cather. "[I grew] up watching [Penn State] and all the success they've had and [I] really want to be a part of this program and to be able to say that [I am] is incredible and I am so happy."
"My parents are so happy and so proud," said Catalano. "Penn State has always been my dream school and the fact that I get to run here just makes it so much better."
They both agreed on one specific thing - when they put on their blue and white for the first time, they're holding nothing back.
A resilient mentality that clearly radiates off of coach John Gondak, who will attend the Dolan Duals this weekend for the first time as the interim head coach for Penn State.
"I'm enjoying this challenge and I'm looking forward to leading the program this weekend," Gondak said.
This weekend is an important one for everyone in the program as it is the first time they are checking out their competition for the season as well as showing off what they've trained for all summer.
"We use [this meet] as a test to see where everyone's fitness is coming off the last few weeks of training and practice and to form a baseline for what we have to work on," he said.
While coach Gondak refers to the Dolan Duals as a low-key competition, he says it is equally as important as any other race for the success of the team.
"The mentality going in is `do your best, give your best,' as long as they leave the course knowing they did their best, we will be happy," said Gondak.
The Nittany Lions will travel to Lock Haven University where they will show off their hard work beginning Friday at 6 p.m. for the women and at 6:30 p.m. for the men.