|Follow PSU Cross Country:||Follow @PennStateTFXC|
Oct. 21, 2013
By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State cross country had quite the busy weekend as the B-team of the team raced in the Penn State National Friday morning and then almost immediately after the entire team packed their bags and traveled to Terre Haute, Ind., for the Pre-National Invitational.
During the Penn State National on Friday morning, not only did current runners get to race, but also Penn State alumni from across the nation had the opportunity to return to Happy Valley and lace up the shoes again.
"It is great to see our alumni come back and run," said head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan.
Even with the alumni returning to campus, the current squad members did not take a break as they were poised to impress the coaching staff with stellar running. Led by freshman Julie Kocjancic, who crossed the finish line in 22:21 for an 18th-place finish, the women's team secured a fourth-place team finish. Junior Lauren Mills also led the attack for the women, who individually placed 21st with a time of 22:30.
"It was good opportunity to race the B-team at home to give those runners much needed experience," said Alford-Sullivan. "Julie [Kocjancic] and Lauren [Mills] both raced very competitively up front for the women's side."
On the men's side, only two athletes ran for the Nittany Lions. Both runners were redshirt freshman and both runners ran unattached. However, Za'von Watkins and Thomas Damiani gained experience by competing successfully in the men's meet. Watkins placed 30th with a time of 28:11 and Damiani followed suit in 43rd place with a time of 29:03.
"Although Za'von and Damiani ran unattached, they gained valuable experience," said Alford-Sullivan. "I was very impressed with the way they ran against the field."
With the conclusion of the Penn State National Friday morning, the mindset changed overnight for Alford-Sullivan and her Nittany Lions as they traveled to Indiana State's Lavern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course Saturday morning to make an impact in the Pre-National Invitational.
Both the men's and women's cross country teams had impressive top-20 finished with the women placing 13th and the men 17th, respectively.
"There was great competition today," said Alford-Sullivan. "Going into the meet we were very focused on having productive outcomes and that is exactly what happened. We saw teams from all over the country today and to finish in the top-20 on both the women's and men's sides feels very rewarding."
The women's squad raced exceptionally well, finishing in 13th place thanks to the efforts of junior Leigha Anderson and senior Emily Giannotti. Individually, Anderson ended with a time of 20:58:80; good enough for 43rd place, and Giannotti was the 91st runner to cross the finish line with a time of 21:23:47.
"Leigha [Anderson] and Emily [Giannotti] were very tough and ran very competitively today," said Alford-Sullivan. "The leadership that they displayed on the course is an integral part of the success of this team."
Rounding out the top five runners for the women was Tori Gerlach. The sophomore out of Perkasie, Pa. finished 169th overall with a time of 21:53:57 to aid in the Nittany Lions success.
"The ladies competed very well," said Alford-Sullivan. "Tori [Gerlach] showed today that she is going to be a difference maker going forward, but she still has a lot of room to grow."
Flipping over to the men's race, the Nittany Lions managed a stellar 17th place finish thanks to the performances of Matt Fischer, Robby Creese and Connor Quinn. Individually, Fischer placed 29th with a time of 23:59:35, Creese finished 57th with a time of 24:16:76, and Quinn ended in 151st place with a time of 24:57:91.
"We were very strong today. Fischer was very impressive with his top 30 finish," said Alford-Sullivan. "However, Quinn brought home the 17th place finish as he was a game-changer late in the race."
Overall, the Nittany Lions were very impressive over the weekend. Not only was the preservation of the Penn State cross country program displayed during the alumni run Friday morning, but the future of the first-rate program showed lots of promise with the way in which the underclassmen raced in the Penn State National.
And, with a top-20 finish by both the men and women's teams Saturday morning in the Pre-National Invitational, head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan and her squads look to carry the momentum to when they return to action Sunday, Nov. 3 for the Big Ten championships.