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Nov. 8, 2012
By Matt Allibone, GoPSUsports.com Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - It's been two months since the Penn State cross country teams have had the opportunity to race on their home course.
That will change on Friday when the Nittany Lions play host to the 2012 NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships.
Both the men and women's squads have been looking forward to running on the Blue & White Golf Course, where they have not had the chance to compete since Sept 8.
"We're really excited to have another chance at home," said head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan. "It's an electric environment to compete at."
Not only are both squads looking forward to running in front of their own fans, they also believe their knowledge of the course gives them a strong home field advantage.
`We know this course, we practice on this course, and we own this course," said junior Emily Giannotti. "That makes it even more exciting."
Senior captain Tyler Corkedale agreed that being familiar with the course should benefit the team.
"It's a tough course but that benefits us because we run it so much," said Corkedale. "The teams coming in may have seen it once or twice but they don't know it like we do."
Another aspect that could play to the Nittany Lion's advantage is the distance of the race.
While the women will be running their usual 6,000 meters, the men will be running a slightly longer distance than usual at 10,000 meters, something they are accustomed to doing on the course in practice.
"We add a mile on which goes in our favor," said Sullivan. "As long as our guys stay tough and stay in a pack we should be able to close well since it's our course."
One factor that will potentially affect strategy is the amount of teams competing in the meet.
Coming off of the Big Ten Championships that featured just 12 schools, the Nittany Lion's will now be facing more than 30 schools on Friday.
Despite this, Sullivan believes her teams can make the race seem smaller by staying up at the front of the pack.
"Both of our squads are front end teams," said Sullivan. "It may be a lot of people but we should be able to make it a relatively small race up front."
Both squads enter the meet with the aspirations to qualify for the National Championships.
The women, who are currently ranked behind defending national champion Georgetown, will be looking for the automatic bid that comes with a top two finish.
While Sullivan knows her team will be challenged for the second automatic bid from schools such as Villanova and Princeton, she is optimistic about her team's chances.
"We got to really compete for it and we can't afford to fall asleep," said Sullivan. "We're going to fight a really good battle though and it should be really exciting."
The men's squad, who enter the race ranked behind Georgetown and Princeton, will be in tough competition with a number of schools including Villanova for an at-large bid.
"We're going to try to put ourselves in a position to upset somebody," said Sullivan. "Hopefully we can knock somebody off."
Between both their training and their experiences competing in meets both large and small this season, Sullivan believes her runners could not be more prepared to race on Friday.
"I think we've really come together well," said Sullivan. "We understand our goals, we're well prepared, and we're healthy and feeling good."
Since it is the team's last chance to compete at home this season, a pair of berths to National Championships would mean that much more to the seniors whose careers are winding down.
"It's going to be emotional," said Corkedale. "It could be my last cross country race and it's my last chance to run in front of our home crowd."
Sullivan agreed that the meet will be extra special because of the seniors.
"I'm very excited for our seniors," said Sullivan. "Having a second chance for them to compete at home is very important to us."