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By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions are lacing up their race day shoes and heading west to Notre Dame to compete in their first NCAA qualifying invitational of the season on Friday afternoon.
It is still early in the year, but with highly ranked teams like No. 12 New Mexico (women) and the No. 10 BYU Cougars (men) in attendance, this weekend will be an opportunity for Penn State to check out what its opponents have in store for this season's quest to nationals.
Competing among 10 ranked teams, the Nittany Lion men's team (RV) will be competing for points towards qualifying for the NCAA Championships in November.
Coming off an individual victory at the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational three weeks ago, fifth-year senior Matt Fischer is eager for the weekend noting that the invitational is a chance for the Nittany Lions to start making their goals into realities.
"We want to be the sharpest we've been all year," said Fischer. "[This meet] will be out first real test when everyone will be going all out to get a good performance in and give us a chance to score some points. It'll be a good test for us against Princeton and if we can go head-to-head with those teams, it will be a big deal for us."
The No. 30 women's team will race at Notre Dame as one of three ranked teams competing. Motivated by the competition, the teams will approach the race with the same focused and determined mentality it is well known for.
"This [meet is at] a bigger field and it's our first travel meet but other than that it is no different, [we have the] same goals. Every race we are going in with the mentality to beat the other teams," said senior Katie Rodden.
This weekend also marks the beginning of the end for some Nittany Lions as five seniors, including Fischer and Rodden, along with Leigha Anderson, Abigail Benson and Lauren Mills, will begin the journey to the NCAA Championships for the last time.
However, the group's senior status is the least of their worries right now as the veterans, like Fischer, are quietly focused on accomplishing some personal goals that they hope will bring overall victory to the team.
"The biggest thing for me is to make it the best year I've had and to keep improving," said Fischer. "I have some personal goals in my head that I don't want to define quite yet because we are early in the season but I think we are definitely in the position to qualify [for nationals] as a team, which I've never had a chance to do...that would be an awesome cap to my career here."
Head coach John Gondak is looking forward to an excitement-packed weekend, as well ensuring that the team has put in plenty of hard work over the last two weeks and is confident they will see the results.
"We are [walking into] a deep competition and it presents a different style of race," said Gondak. "We are going to test ourselves. This is a turning point in our season. These meets start to count now and we have to make sure that when we step out there we are ready to compete."
While the teams know there are many things at stake beginning with this race, through it all, they are most excited to do what they do best - have fun and run hard.
Penn State's first race will be the women's 5k at 4:15 p.m. followed by the men's five-mile run at 5 p.m.