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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In less than twenty-four hours the Penn State men's and women's cross country teams will gear up to run at one of this season's most important meets yet, the Mid-Atlantic Regional.
Head coach John Gondak and the Nittany Lions are thrilled about the opportunity to host the region-wide event and they are looking forward to seeing some of the top teams the Mid-Atlantic has to offer gather in Happy Valley.
"I really look forward to providing an opportunity for the 32 teams that are coming in this weekend and giving them an outstanding experience," said Gondak. "I know [the meet has] been on [the team's] mind and I know they're excited."
Anticipating the Competition
The trails and locker rooms have been murmuring all week as excitement for the race sets in for student-athletes and coaches.
This Friday, the Nittany Lions will look to qualify for the 2014 NCAA National Championships and they're confident in their training, which has set stage for this race.
Coming off a record-breaking third-place finish at the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago, the team's confidence on the men's side is at an all-time high.
"We're excited to get back in the game with this weekend's meet. [Big Tens] was a new burst of energy for the team and to bring that into regionals is exciting," said fifth-year senior Matt Fischer.
The women's side has performed with tremendous consistency this season in their pack strategy and concentration. This weekend looks to be no different.
"We have a really positive attitude going into Regionals and we're looking for some good turnouts," said senior Katie Rodden.
As top-ranked teams like No. 2 Georgetown (women) and No. 7 Villanova (men) trickle into town, Fischer and Rodden will look to edge the competition with their experience.
Both seniors are contenders for a positive result after showing continuous improvement at all regional competitions within the last four years and both have been preparing persistently as they hope to leave their mark in their final home outing.
"We just want to do what we need to do to get to the NCAA meet. We want to perform well and use that to get to NCAAs and kill it there too," said Fischer.
"I definitely want to be All-Region again and [I want] to help put our team in a position to make it to Nationals," said Rodden.
Defending the Home Turf
This weekend, Gondak marks his ninth Mid-Atlantic Regional competition as a part of the Penn State program and even after almost a decade of coaching the Nittany Lions, championship racing still sparks adrenaline.
"Every time we can host a championship event at home, it's thrilling," said Gondak. "As soon as the Big Ten [Championship] meet finished, the excitement surrounding the Regional meet has been building since then."
With this year's race location set for Penn State's home turf at the Blue-White Golf courses, the team will compete in a convenient and fun atmosphere.
"That's an exciting factor to this year's competition. We feel like it's an advantage to know that we're really familiar with the course. It's a nice thing to have and I think it will work in our favor," said Fischer.
"The fact that we're able to train on the golf course on a regular basis allows our student-athletes to have a really good feel for [the course]. It gives them an advantage but at the end of the day everybody is out there racing and racing hard and we've got some extremely talented teams in our region," said Gondak. "We're looking forward to going out and doing the best we can do."
The senior student-athletes running on Friday like Lauren Mills, Matt Fischer, and Katie Rodden avoid talk of leaving behind the blue and white as they approach the final stages of the season, but they're all aware of the opportunities that surround them.
As for Fischer and Rodden, they anticipate their last time stepping up to their home start line to be memorable and exhilarating.
"The mentality going in [we're thinking] it's a qualifying meet. I personally want to do whatever I can to help the team...Go out there and stay relaxed. [I want to] just help myself [and the team] have the best race [we] can," said Fischer.
The younger Nittany Lions are bringing out their best post-season strategies to ensure the team has the best outcome it's capable of and they're excited to compete against some of the greatest runners in the area of Friday.
"As I always say, I'm not big on predictions...I'm just hoping they can go out there and put themselves in a position to qualify for the National Championship," said Gondak.
The event will bring an exciting atmosphere to campus full of fans, athletes, free giveaways, and upbeat music. Festivities kick-off with the women's 6K at noon followed by the men's 10K race at 1 p.m.