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Oct. 4, 2012
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - Making the leap from freshman understudy to top performer can be a difficult task for any college athlete to make in just one offseason.
It is a jump that sophomore cross country runner Leigha Anderson has been making look easy so far this season.
After not being on the traveling squad as a freshman, Anderson has finished fifth for the Nittany Lions in back-to-back meets this fall, including a 10th-place overall finish at the squad's home opener.
"It's been a much different than last year," said Anderson. "It's really nice to contribute to the team."
While she hoped to make significant strides this season, Anderson stated that she has been somewhat surprised by her finishes so far, as she considers the competition from her teammates to be topnotch.
"Everyone else on our team is so good this year," said Anderson. "I didn't really know what to expect."
Anderson admitted that stepping into a bigger role has brought more pressure upon her, but maintained that she has embraced the new challenges.
"There `s definitely some more pressure this year," said Anderson. "That's part of running in all the meets instead of just watching everyone else go."
One factor that Anderson believes has made a huge difference this season is the confidence that she has developed.
"I definitely have a different mindset this year," said Anderson. "I focus on staying with the top girls which I didn't do last year."
Another aspect that has strengthened Anderson's performance is the increased training that she put in over the summer.
"I think my training has gotten more intense," said Anderson. "My mileage has definitely gone up."
Along with increasing her miles, Anderson has adopted new habits in other areas that she believes has benefited her running.
"I focused on the little things," said Anderson. ""Getting more sleep and eating better were some of the things that I did a lot differently."
Improving those habits was something that Anderson realized she had to do as she became more acclimated with college cross country.
"I didn't really know what to do my freshmen year," said Anderson. "I was definitely still in a high school mindset."
Now as a sophomore, Anderson feels as though she has a firm grasp on what works and what is expected of her.
"Now I know what to expect and how to handle the preseason," said Anderson.
Not only did Anderson's freshman campaign teach her how to act off the course, it also gave her the opportunity to study the work habits of the upperclassmen on the team.
"I got to see how the older girls developed their running and what they did differently," said Anderson. "I started trying to do the runs they did and copy their work ethic."
Although her role on the team has grown this fall, Anderson still tries to follow the example set by the team's seniors.
"They're great role models," said Anderson. "I really look up to them."
Anderson also credited head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan with helping her improve as an overall runner.
"She's a really good coach," said Anderson. "She really emphasizes the details that I focused on.
With the women's squad currently ranked 14th in the country, Anderson stated that the team has their sights set on the NCAA Championships.
"We want to be among the top teams in the Big Ten and make it to Nationals," said Anderson.
However this season turns out for her, Anderson could not be prouder to represent Penn State.
"I love this school," said Anderson. "Representing this school is something I've wanted to do since high school."
Anderson and her teammates return to the course on Oct 12, when they compete at the Adidas Wisconsin Invite at the University of Wisconsin.