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By Alyssa Palfey, GGoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State cross country team will run their last home meet of the regular season at the annual Penn State National Open this Friday, Oct. 14th at the Blue-White Golf Course.
Last year at this meet, the women captured the top spot with their top three runners placing in the top-10, while the men got second as a team with their top five runners placing in the top-15.
This will be the last meet they compete in before championship season starts and will have several ranked teams present.
Along with being their last meet before championship season, this will also be Senior Day for the Nittany Lions.
Seniors on the men's team are redshirt senior, Conrad Lippert of Middletown, N.J., Brad Rivera of Bensalem, Pa., and Joseph Phifer of Union, N.J. For the women, the seniors include captain, Julie Kocjancic of Pittsburgh, Pa., and Cara Uilizio of Redondo Beach, Ca.
Senior Captain Julie Kocjancic reflects on how she has grown as athlete throughout her career at Penn State.
"I have improved from my freshman year by being able to get ready for competition and approach workouts with confidence in my training," said Kocjancic. "Also just figuring out the system of what works for me, whether it be my mileage or my diet and that has shown improvements in my time and fitness."
She also relives her favorite memory on the team, and is looking forward to the upcoming championship season.
"The most memorable part of my cross country career was last year winning Big Tens and all the fun I had with the team. We beat a No. 2 nationally ranked team when weren't even ranked in the top 10," said Kocjancic. "I am looking forward to this season more than I ever have any other season because we have a very talented team that is in a great spot, and it being my last cross country season since I was in sixth grade. These last few races will be very bittersweet."
Head Coach John Gondak, enjoyed coaching and watching Kocjancic grow over the past few years.
"Julie has come in and really grown as an athlete in XC, earning all-region honors last year and helping to seal the deal as our number 5 runner when we won the Big Ten last fall. It has been great to see her grow as a person and athlete," said Gondak.
On the men's side, redshirt senior, Conrad Lippert, is the only one left from his freshman year, but feels the team atmosphere is still the same as it was back then.
"There is no one else on the team right now who was also on the team with me my freshman year. In that sense, this team is completely different. In another sense, nothing has changed," said Lippert.
Lippert is ready to take on the rest of the season, as championship meets are coming up.
"I'm just looking to experience that underlying presence of Penn State XC that has been such a prominent part of the last five years of my life a few more times and make the most of this championship season," he said.
Gondak is happy to see Lippert competing hard for his final season as a Nittany Lion.
"It is great to see Conrad back in the mix and competing well for the team. This is his final semester and he is really taking advantage of it," said Gondak.
Coaching is a very rewarding job for Gondak. He enjoys watching his athletes grow as both athletes and people.
"It is always exciting to see athletes grow from when they come in as wide-eyed freshman to where they leave as young adults with a Penn State education," said Gondak.
The Penn State National Open will begin at 10:30 a.m. ET on Friday.