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By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's and women's cross country teams will have a chance to check out their regional and ranked rivals on Saturday when the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational kicks off at the Blue-White Golf Courses.
The Spiked Shoe Invitational will bring in a host of competitors in the region like Pittsburgh (men and women), West Virginia (women) and No. 29 Georgetown (men), along with the No. 8 Syracuse men's team.
While national championship qualifying doesn't begin until October, the teams are entering this weekend with their notable relentless attitudes led by seniors like Matt Fischer and Abigail Benson, who are anxious to participate in the Spiked Shoe invitational for their final time.
Benson finished eighth last year and is entering this weekend with a new mindset and some new goals.
"I am excited about the competition this weekend. I am definitely in a better mind set this year than last. I believe [coach John] Gondak is an awesome coach and [he is] really taking the time to make us better runners," Benson said. "I believe in his coaching and [I] think this is going to be a good year and now that I am a senior I believe in myself. [I] want to make this year a great one."
Although he sat out last year, this weekend marks Fischer's third and final time running the Spiked Shoe Invitational. At his last Spiked Shoe, Fischer had the highest individual finish and with four-plus years of collegiate running experience under his belt, he is sure to be one of the top competitors of the weekend.
"At this point I know the course in and out really well and I'm going to start it off the right way. We want to go out there and have fun and use this as a confidence booster," said Fischer. "It's a good chance to see where the other teams are at and I'm going to use this as a step to get closer to achieving the goals I have set out for myself and my team."
After a successful weekend at the Dolan Duals, interim head coach John Gondak is excited to see some of the team's top athletes out for the first time this season.
"We will be seeing the full lineup for the first time and I'm excited to see them go up against some top teams and see where they can finish," said Gondak. "I was really impressed with the men's competitive attitude and fight [last weekend]."
There is no doubt that the Nittany Lions will benefit from racing on their home course. Both Benson and Gondak believe that the team will be able to carry a strong advantage from the beginning.
"Knowing the course is really an advantage and can go a long way. Being able to race on the course during the year really helps prepare us for the regional meet," said Gondak.
"If we can all just stay in a pack and work together, I feel that talking to each other and working off each other we can truly do some amazing things," said Benson. "It will be a fast first mile but after that if we pack up and work it, it should be fun."
The women will begin their 6k race at 10 a.m. and the men will run at 10:45 a.m., with a 5.2 mile run.