Danny Pawola needed little time to make an impact.
Only two races into the Penn State men's cross country team's season, the true freshman has already caught the attention of the coaches.
Pawola began his collegiate career last Friday at the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational and was the top finisher for the Nittany Lions, placing 11th overall with a time of 26 minutes 48 seconds.
"We gave him an extra week to adjust to things and Danny did a great job," Penn State coach Beth Alford-Sullivan said. "He's going to be an outstanding collegiate athlete."
The high level of competition is nothing new to the Pawola. The Naperville, Ill. native raced in Class AAA in high school and competed in the 2008 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships.
At the Foot Locker Championships, Pawola recorded a ninth-place finish at the Midwest Regional in Wisconsin. He placed 13th at the national finals in California. The freshman thinks this high level of running has prepared him well for his college career.
In his senior year at Neuqua Valley High School, Pawola finished third in the Class AAA Boys 3,200 meter run at the Illinois Boys State Track and Field Championships.
"It put me into a competition against guys who made me question my own abilities, ask if I deserve to be here," Pawola said. "But it prepared me mentally for the collegiate level of running, knowing there are guys out there who are better than me, but I can keep my cool."
Pawola said summer training is also a big reason why he ran well in his collegiate debut. He has had to make the transition from a three-mile run in high school to a five-mile collegiate race, and he thinks the longer distances are going to be better for him. He ran longer distances this summer than he did in previous years. Pawola said he ran 10 miles on light workout days and 15 or 16 miles on heavy days.
The Lions' freshman is looking to build on his first meet and a have successful first season. Pawola says he wants to be a top-five or top-seven runner and contribute to the team this year.
The coaches know Pawola is talented, and they have liked what they have seen early in the season. However, Alford-Sullivan likes his mental approach just as much as his running ability.
"The biggest gift he brings to the table is that he is just tough," Alford-Sullivan said. "From the gun these guys have to overcome discomfort and that's a toughness factor that's he has."
Alford-Sullivan said she wanted to see how the new runners performed in the early meets, and Pawola has not disappointed. She thinks he will make an impact all season for the Lions.
"He's got a big upswing for this season," Alford-Sullivan said. "If he stays healthy and fresh and recovered off things, I think he's going to be even better as the season goes."