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By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The intensity meter is about to spike as the Penn State cross-country teams head to Indiana State University on Saturday to compete in the 2014 Pre-National Invitational.
Penn State will face its toughest competition to date with 83 teams competing, 40 women's and 43 men's.
"This [meet] is a much larger competition approximately 80 teams will be there this weekend," said head coach John Gondak. "We competed well this weekend but I think we can be even better."
They will look to greatly improve their outing from the women's 13th place and the men's 17th place finish in 2013. The team has two focuses in their game plan.
Penn State is focused on running smart, emphasizing the importance of beginning to race strong and ahead of the competition as it sets the tone for the finish line.
"I hope that this weekend we can pack up and be further up into the pack. When you have 40 teams, it's an amoeba of people that move through the course and where you start is where you get stuck for a while," said Gondak.
The men's team is focused on improving from their previous race and staying packed together from as early as the first 800 meters. They plan on using their newfound depth as an advantage.
"We have a lot more experience. We run all the workouts together as a team. The front-runners are there but the four, five, and six guys are up there and running together, too," said sophomore Conner Quinn.
The women want to improve noting they hold the same mindset they always do; to win.
"The mindset is to stay more as a pack. I just really want to the team to do well," said junior Tori Gerlach.
"We had a solid showing last [meet] but it needs to be our best this weekend."
The course at the LaVern Gibson Championship is much larger and more complex than the one at the Blue and White golf courses and it will be a big test for the Nittany Lions' fitness.
"Indiana State has a dedicated cross-country course that hosts the national championship meet and there's specific criteria that the course needs to be," said Gondak.
The straightaways and turns are measured to specific standards with straightaways and turns distanced farther or closer apart than the runners are used to.
"It should provide us a good opportunity to compete well this weekend," said Gondak.
"It's a very different course so I'm looking [forward to] seeing how other teams stack up against each other," said Gerlach.
This weekend will be the teams' only chance to check out the course before its possible return to Terre Haute in late November for the NCAA National Championships.
Ahead for the Nittany Lions is a whirlwind of competition as the Big Ten Championships are next on the schedule. However, the team won't let the pressure get to them.
"We will be seeing a lot of Top Ten teams at Pre-[Nationals]. We will see a bunch of guys and teams that will be contending for the national title but we're a good team, [too]" said Quinn. "We are taking it one meet at a time."
The women and men will begin at 11:00 a.m. and 11:45 a.m., respectively. The women will run in a 6k Blue race and the men will compete in an 8k Blue race in hopes of earning NCAA qualifying points.