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Oct. 25, 2012
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - They've been looking forward to this moment all season, and on Sunday both the Penn State women's and men's cross country teams get the chance to prove themselves against their conference at the Big Ten Championships.
The meet, which takes place at Michigan State University, will feature all 12 teams that make up the Big Ten.
When asked about the meet, head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan couldn't contain her excitement about facing their competition.
"It's a great opportunity to go head to head with everybody," said Sullivan. "It's a rare sport that gets to do that and our kids and I are excited for it."
Sullivan was also quick to mention how her teams training in preparation for the meet has kept them in excellent shape.
"We've had a great cycle of workouts starting from the end of last week," said Sullivan. "Now we're trying to make sure their legs are good and fresh going into this weekend."
Along with making sure her team is in top physical shape, Sullivan wants to ensure that they are mentally prepared to handle the pressure of a big race as well.
"I just tell them to embrace the fun and get excited about what's at hand," said Sullivan. "It's all about keeping it relaxed, loose, and being confident.
Junior Nick Scarpello agreed with his coach and stated that the key to staying calm for a race of this magnitude is to keep your mindset the same as always.
"For a meet like this, we like to approach it like any other race," said Scarpello. "For us it's like business as usual."
One thing that Sullivan did stress is how the team's strategy changes with only nine runners competing from each school.
"The tactics change because the runners have a clear vision of the race," said Sullivan. "They can see their teammates better and run in a pack better so the strategy changes so they can team perform."
This is a factor that Sullivan believes could play into the Nittany Lions favor, as they have raced in both large and small meets this season.
"I think we're really ready," said Sullivan. "We've run the gamut on all the things that the sport produces and we've seen a lot of the Big Ten.
Junior Rebekka Simko agreed that the Nittany Lion's are prepared for the challenge, since they have already faced some of the best competition the country has to offer this season.
"We've been against the best in the country," said Simko. "We know we can run with these schools.
Both squads enter the race with high aspirations for themselves. Sullivan believes the men's squad can place in the top five.
"We finished sixth last year, so we're looking to crack that top five," said Sullivan. "That's the standard and hopefully we can get into the upper echelon.
Scarpello shared Sullivan's opinion on the goal for his team.
"We're standing by our goal at the beginning on the season which was to finish fifth," said Scarpello. "We're going to have to run well but it just means performing up to our capabilities."
Some of the schools that the men's squad will be sure to keep an eye on are the defending national champion Wisconsin Badgers, as well as Michigan.
"Wisconsin looks to be highly the favorites," said Sullivan. "Michigan has also been running extremely well lately."
On the women's side, the 13th-ranked Nittany Lion's will be in tough competition with seventh-ranked Michigan and 15th-ranked Michigan State for the title.
"Michigan State is the two time defending champs and they've got the home field advantage," said Sullivan. "Michigan is having a phenomenal season and they're the one team we haven't seen yet."
In Sullivan's opinion, the school that ends up winning will be the one that manages to get some unexpected breakout performances.
"The team that wins this weekend is going to be the one that pulls off some surprise performances," said Sullivan. "If someone comes through with a bigger race then they have all year and gives their team an extra punch then that could determine it."
The one factor that Sullivan believes will be huge for her runners is their ability to run together.
"Our girls have been running so tight amongst each other," said Sullivan. "If that pack can stay tight on the front end then we're going to be really dangerous."
Sullivan also expressed how much it would mean to see this group of girls win the title.
"This would be huge," said Sullivan. "We've been in contention every year and to pull off the win would really set the standard for the program."
Simko echoed her coach's sentiments on what winning would mean to the program.
"It would be unbelievable," said Simko. "It would be a great way for the seniors to end their careers."
Though the competition will be tough, the Nittany Lion's believe that can pull off their goal.
"We're looking at it as it's ours to steal, not ours to lose," said Sullivan. "If we keep that attitude we'll have a great shot."