UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion men's and women's cross country squads will hit the post-season trail this weekend, competing at the Big Ten Cross Country Championships, Sunday at Michigan State University. Both teams are poised for strong finishes, with the Nittany Lion women looking to contend for the team title, entering the meet as the 13th-ranked program in the latest United States Track and Field/Cross Country Coaches' Association (USTFCCCA) poll.
Standing in the way will be a talented Michigan squad, which comes in to the competition with a No. 7 ranking to their credit, while the No. 15 Michigan State Spartans will look to use the home-course advantage to lift them to their third-straight conference title. The Golden Gophers of Minnesota also look to be in the running, coming into the competition ranked No. 25 in the national Top 30. The quartet of squads have had a strong hold on the Big Ten Conference in recent years, as one of the four teams has claimed the team title in every championship since 2000, including the Nittany Lions in 2009.
The Wolverines also boast the top returner from last year's competition, as Rebecca Addison placed fourth overall, leading her squad to a second-place finish. The 2011 Championships were a tight race at the top, with the Spartans taking top honors with 55 points, followed by the Wolverines with 61, and the Nittany Lions with 71. Then-senior Caitlin Lane captured the Big Ten title individually, marking the Nittany Lions second gold medalist in three years, along with Bridget Franek's victory in 2009. The Lions' top returner from 2011 is junior Emily Giannotti(Coudersport, Pa.), who turned in a 14th-place effort to earn All-Big Ten Second Team status.
Running at the front of the Nittany Lion pack has been junior Rebekka Simko (Mentor, Ohio). Simko, who was an Olympic Trials qualifier in the 800-meters this summer, was the Lions' top finisher at the both the Greater Louisville Classic, and again at the high-powered Adidas Wisconsin Invitational. Classmate Victoria Perri (Philadelphia, Pa.) has also emerged as a consistent member of the Lions' scoring contingent, finishing at the Lions' second runner at Louisville and number-three finisher at Wisconsin. Also looking to throw their hats into the Big Ten fray are senior captains Brooklyne Ridder (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Natalie Bower(Pleasant Unity, Pa.). Ridder and Bower, who were both members of Penn State's Big Ten title squad in 2009, have also been running strong this season, helping the Nittany Lions to an eighth-place finish at the Adidas Wisconsin Invitational, where the Nittany Lions bettered a total of 13 nationally-ranked teams.
The Nittany Lions are coming off a sixth-place finish on the men's side in 2011, paced by All-Big Ten finishes from then-seniors Kyle Dawson and Vince McNally. Senior Tyler Corkedale (West Windsor, N.J.) is the Lions' top returner finisher from the 2011 Championships. Also running well from the men's squad this fall have been senior Sam Masters (Columbia, Mo.) and redshirt-sophomore Matt Fischer(Kennett Square, Pa.). Masters led the Lions with a 17th-place finish in a stellar field at the Greater Louisville Classic, while Fischer kicked off the season on the right foot, placing second at the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational last month.
About the Big Ten Championships ... When: Sunday, October 28 Where: Forest Akers East Golf Course (East Lansing, Mich.) Race Times: Women's 6,000m (10:45 a.m.); Men's 8,000m (11:45 a.m.) Host Website:www.MSUSpartans.com
Last Time Out ... The 14th-ranked Nittany Lion women's cross country squad proved their position among the nation's elite, finishing eighth in the team standings, on October 16 at the high-powered Adidas Wisconsin Invitational at Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course. Paced by a 34th-place effort from junior Rebekka Simko(Mentor, Ohio), the Nittany Lions held their own against a sensational field, bettering a total of 13 nationally ranked programs, and finishing tops among Big Ten foes.
The 2011 Big Ten Championships ... Senior Caitlin Lane (Greenwich, N.Y.) took top honors, leading the Nittany Lion women's squad to a third-place finish in the team standings, Sunday, at the Big Ten Cross Country Championships at the University of Illinois Arboretum. Lane led a trio of Nittany Lions on the women's all-conference team, with senior Kara Millhouse (Boiling Springs, Pa.) earning first team status, and sophomore Emily Giannotti (Coudersport, Pa.) claiming second team honors. Seniors Kyle Dawson (Coatesville, Pa.) and Vince McNally(Paoli, Pa.) paced the Nittany Lions' sixth-place finish on the men's side, placing 12th and 13th, respectively, both capturing all-conference second team accolades.
Last Time in East Lansing ... The Nittany Lion women's squad scored a third-place finish during the 2003 Big Ten Championships at Michigan State, led by a fourth-place effort from then-junior Molly Landreth. Jenny Stevens also earned All-Big Ten honors, placing 10th overall. Michigan won the team title, thanks to an individual victory by Rebecca Walter. Wisconsin was tops on the men's side, with Nittany Lion Dan Mazzoccoplacing fourth individually, to pace the Lions' seventh-place standing.
NCAA Qualifying ... September 21 served as the opening for the NCAA's "At-Large" window, in which "points" can be earned over opposing schools, that could later count towards a team's bid to the NCAA Cross Country Championships. The NCAA accepts a total of 31 teams per gender to the NCAA Cross Country Championships each fall, with the top two teams from each of the nine Regional Championships races receiving automatic berths. The next 13 teams are chosen via an "at-large" system, based upon "points" earned throughout the season.
NCAA Preview ... Led by top 20 performances by juniors Rebekka Simko (Mentor, Ohio), and Victoria Perri (Philadelphia, Pa.), the 17th-ranked Nittany Lion women's cross country squad placed fifth overall at the Greater Louisville Classic on September 29, knocking off No. 8 Vanderbilt, as well as No. 29 and conference rival, Wisconsin. The men's squad also posted a solid effort, placing 10th in the team standings, thanks to a 17th-place finish from senior Sam Masters(Columbia, Mo.), individually.
Home Course Advantage ... Junior Victoria Perri (Philadelphia, Pa.) and redshirt-sophomore Matt Fischer(Kennett Square, Pa.) paced the Nittany Lions individually despite rainy and windy conditions, each turning in runner-up finishes, Saturday at the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational at the Blue-White Golf Courses. The Nittany Lion women's squad posted a dominant effort in the team standings, winning the competition with a 25-point total, thanks to five finishers in the top 10, and seven in the top 16. Penn State also fared well on the men's side, taking third overall in a solid early-season field.
Early Big Ten Honors ... Following victories at the Dolan Duals at Lock Haven last weekend, redshirt-freshman Robby Creese (Mount Airy, Md.) and junior Rebekka Simko(Mentor, Ohio) have been named Big Ten Cross Country Athletes of the Week. The Nittany Lions provided a dominate effort in the team standings with both teams picking up victories over Lock Haven, including a 15-50 sweep by the women's squad.
Off and Running ... Redshirt freshman Robby Creese (Mount Airy, Md.) and junior Rebekka Simko (Mentor, Ohio) led the way with individual titles, pacing the Nittany Lion cross country squads to a pair of team victories at the annual Dolan Duals at Lock Haven University on Sept. 31. Simko headed up a perfect effort from the women's squad, which saw the Nittany Lions better the Bald Eagles, 15-50. Simko gapped the field down the homestretch of the 4,000-meter course, finishing in 14:16. Teammate Tori Perri (Philadelphia, Pa.) was next in line, finishing in 14:20 for second overall. The men's squad was just as successful, bettering their competitors, 25-30, with Creese picking up the individual victory in 18:12 over 6,000-meters, in his first cross country appearance in a Nittany Lion uniform. The Nittany Lions covered three of the top five finishing spots, with junior Nick Scarpello(Jamison, Pa.), and Tom Luff (Emmaus, Pa.) taking third and fourth, respectively, in 18:36 and 18:37.
Nittany Lions in Charge ... A quintet of seniors will serve at Penn State's team captains for the 2012 seasons, with 2011 NCAA qualifiers Natalie Bower (Pleasant Unity, Pa.), Lindsey Graybill (Macungie, Pa.), and Brooklyne Ridder (Cincinnati, Ohio) captaining the women's squad, and Tyler Corkedale(West Windsor, N.J.), and Tom Luff (Emmaus, Pa.) leading the men's team.
Mark Your Calendars ... The road to the NCAA Championships will begin in Happy Valley, as the Nittany Lions are slated to host the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships on Friday, November 9. Regional races are set to begin at 12:00 p.m.