When people usually think of the term home-field advantage, cross-country is generally not the first sport that comes to mind.
However, on Saturday, the Penn State cross-country team showed how much of an edge home field can give a team, especially when the weather conditions are far from ideal.
The Nittany Lions hosted the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational with a field that included Princeton, Georgetown, West Virginia, and other top programs.
“This is a tough home course,” said head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan. “It’s a wonderful course. We love racing here. It’s a beautiful spectator course…but you could see the finish of this course, the last mile for both men and women you’re uphill, and it’s just a long grade, and you’re tired at the end. These kids have a home course advantage because you know how tough it’s going to be, and you prepare for that.”
As soon as the meet kicked off, the wind picked up and rain began to pour on the course, creating slippery, muddy conditions most people would hate to walk in, let alone run in.
Yet the Lions were still able to excel, with the women placing first overall with a score of 25 and the men placing third overall behind only Princeton and Georgetown with a score of 78.
Standouts for the men and women’s teams were junior Victoria Perri and redshirt sophomore Matt Fischer, who both finished second overall in their races.
Perri carried the momentum from her other runner-up finish a week ago at the Dolan Duals and credits her high finish on Saturday to some coaching advice during the race.
“We saw head coach at one point, and she was telling me how I had to go try and win it,” said Perri. “At that point, I kind of looked around and saw that it was my time to go.”
Perri’s second place time of 21:20 on the 6,000-meter course led a strong women’s performance, which included all of the Lions’ top five runners placing in the top 10 overall.
The Lions’ Matt Fischer had a great race on the men’s 5.2 mile course, finishing runner-up with a time of 26:07, only seven seconds behind the overall winner Alejandro Arroyo Yamin of Princeton.
After the race, Fischer described how running this meet at home gave the Lions the edge heading into their races.
“We’re used to how the course ends,” said Fischer. “A lot of courses end flat, but on this course the last mile has got some hills. We work out on this course, so we’re ready for that, and we know what’s coming.”
Alford-Sullivan was pleased with how the men and women teams handled the tough conditions, and she knows they will be prepared for more tough conditions as the season goes on.
“There’s no contingency plan. You just got to race through whatever Mother Nature presents you,” said Alford-Sullivan. “It’s part of the toughness factor, and sometimes you can let it get to you and get a little spooked by it…but most of these kids have been through it before, and they’ll be through it again.”