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Dec. 4, 2013
By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Running is a sport that never has to stop. Unfortunately, for the Penn State cross country team, however, their season came to a close the weekend prior to Thanksgiving at the NCAA championships in Terre Haute, Ind.
It certainly is difficult to measure how well the team as a whole accomplished its goals that were set out at the beginning of the season, but head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan explained that as the season unfolded, the initial goals were altered appropriately.
"You set those preseason goals that are kind of standard off of the year before, and then you get into the season and see how it goes," said Alford-Sullivan. "I feel like we may have come up a little short of our anticipated goals, but we actually achieved what we wanted to as the season unraveled. As it started to come into play we were able to control what we wanted to do."
After three months of strenuous training, the constantly modified goals culminated together at the NCAA championships. With that being said, the focus of the conversation with Alford-Sullivan earlier this week was her final assessments of the women and men's teams.
"On the women's side we definitely achieved what we wanted," said Alford-Sullivan. "We were at first a team that lost our top four from last year, came back at it this year, and ran very competitive Big Ten races, a great regional race, and then went on to the NCAAs and represented extremely well. These are kids that have just gotten better every season and every year for us."
The story was written a little differently on the men's side because even though the whole team did not make it to Terre Haute, star runner Matt Fischer individually qualified and closed out his tremendous year by finishing in 78th place.
"On the guys side we had some highs and lows," said Alford-Sullivan. "We were running as a pretty productive squad. We got a little banged up going into Big Tens, which turned out to be costly at the Big Ten championships. But, I was really proud of the guys not letting that be the final point in the season. They rallied for the regional by running extremely tough and then of course there is Matt Fischer who had a year that he should really be proud of."
Since cross country is a sport where mistakes are not prevalent, Alford-Sullivan expressed how proud she was of her team's performance throughout the fall months.
"You have to give [the runners] a lot of credit," said Alford-Sullivan. "They go out there and test themselves. It's a true grit sport and you have to be really proud of them when they display the effort that they do each practice and each meet."
Despite the fact that the cross country season is officially over, do not fret. As of Dec. 1, the indoor track season has commenced. Not only does the majority of the cross country team participate in indoor track, but most continue to shorten their distance by running outdoor track in the spring, as well.
The cross country runners are the only student-athletes in college that race competitively in three separate seasons from August until the end of June. With that in mind, Alford-Sullivan noted the advantages that her runners acquire by racing on three unique platforms.
"As a coach, I love the three different collegiate running platforms because as soon as one is done I can move on to the next one and get excited about it," said Alford-Sullivan. "We have our strengths and weaknesses in each of those seasons, so it is fun to turn the corner, hit December 1, and know that cross country is done and in the record books and know that it is track time. Now you turn around and focus on a whole other group of people and add the distance runners into the mix."
Thus is the reason why even though cross country is finished until August, the runners' shoes are still tied. Indoor track has already begun, and outdoor track is just around the bend.
Plus, with the recent acquisition of Penn State football senior wide-receiver standout and local State College product, Alex Kenney, the track season is set to showcase a wealth of speed.
"We are thrilled about the addition of [Alex Kenney]," said Alford-Sullivan. "We have a great history in track and field here and these cross country kids are going to make up a great part of it, as well."