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By Alyssa Palfey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - This cross country season marks year four for senior Jillian Hunsberger's Penn State journey, and she is ready to go out with a bang.
While most runners start their career young, Hunsberger hasn't always been this involved in running. She actually didn't have much interest in the sport until her high school years.
"I started doing road races in middle school, but just really sporadically. I wouldn't train for them; my mom would just sign me up and I would go off and do it," said Hunsberger. "I didn't really start taking running seriously until about my sophomore year of high school, and I really only started running because my brother had done it in high school."
Her love for the sport started to develop throughout the rest of her high school years, and then she made the decision to continue her running in college. For many athletes, looking to further their athletic career in colleg and picking the right place to attend is tough. For Hunsberger, the academic factor played a critical role in this decision.
"I like the mix of athletics with academics. I didn't want to go somewhere where they just focused on athletics, but I also didn't want to go somewhere where the academics were the main point and there'd be no chance to further my career as a runner," she said. "I thought that Penn State would provide an opportunity for me to excel in both areas."
While a lot of people find running an easy few miles relaxing and fun, Hunsberger loves the aspect behind how running is very straightforward when analyzing competition and who excels more.
"My favorite part of running is the fact that you can't argue who's faster or who's better. There's times, there's places, it's very cut and dry," said Hunsberger. "I feel like with sports like soccer and football, you can argue who has better stats, who plays better. With running, you're all on the same course, you're all on the same track, and it's whoever is better that day."
Penn State has brought Hunsberger with this aspect of running and an amazing team surrounding her. She knows that her accomplishments couldn't have been done without them.
"A lot of the decisions I make with winning has to do with the team especially in cross country where you really want to focus on getting a solid core group of scores where everybody's coming along together. I definitely wouldn't run if I had to run by myself every day," said Hunsberger. "Running's about scoring and achieving goals and competing and the end results. Being a part of a team, that all is part of it. It's getting the team to that spot."
Penn State has also brought her memories that will stay with her for long after her running career.
"My favorite memory would definitely be winning Big Tens both times in cross and then in indoor. The whole purpose of the sport is to win, you always want to win. Both times, I feel like we were the underdogs and we weren't necessarily supposed to win, but we did. It's an amazing atmosphere to be around."
Head Coach John Gondak has always known Hunsberger would be a great asset to team from beginning. He knows her leadership will lead the team to do great things during her last cross country season here at Penn State.
"Jill has had an amazing impact with Penn State cross country from when she first came into the program as a freshman. She is very passionate about her running. She's very knowledgeable about her own personal training and what her limits are. She's battled through some injuries early on in her career that has made her a better and stronger athlete through her junior and senior season. She's somebody we've been incredibly thrilled to have in the program the last four years," said Gondak. "She was All-Big Ten and All-American last year, that's kind of being the best of the best. So, hopefully she'll just continue to improve and work to place higher at the Big Ten and NCAA Championships than last year, just want her to continue to be the best that she can be."
To end her final cross country season, Hunsberger wants the team to continue doing well at the conference level, but more importantly, wants to see a step up at the national level.
"I would really like us to win Big Tens, that's always the goal. To me, that's a lesser goal than nationals, I've always personally wanted to focus more on nationals. It's a bigger stage and better place to gauge where the program is. We're still pretty early in the season, but I think we can definitely do better than what we did last year. I would like to see us top ten," said Hunsberger.