There is a feeling of excitement surrounding the Penn State women’s cross-country team this season.
The team’s expectations are sky high as it tries to make the next step into becoming a major contender in the national cross-country scene.
These high expectations are warranted due to the Nittany Lions’ 13th-place finish in last year’s NCAA Championships and their five returning runners from that meet.
One of these returning runners is senior Natalie Bower, who is one of the three captains on the women’s team.
“Our goal is to make it to national championships again and just to place as high as we can,” said Bower. “I think we definitely have what it takes to get there, and we’ll just have to see as the season goes on who our top seven will be that will be able to contribute.”
The women have gotten out to the strong start they were looking for this season, winning the first two meets they have competed in.
In their first meet, the Dolan Duals, the women’s team registered its second perfect score in as many years, which means the Nittany Lion women finished first through fifth overall.
Last week they won the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational running against strong competition.
In the latest national rankings released on Monday, the Penn State women jumped up three spots from sixth to third in the Mid-Atlantic Region, leapfrogging past Princeton and West Virginia, who they beat in the Spiked Shoe Invitational.
Sophomore Abbie Benson, one of the underclassmen expected to make huge strides this year, feels the great results the team has had early in the season are something it not only expected but also deserved.
“It seems like everyone put in all their summer training. Workouts have been tougher, and we’ve been running more as a pack,” said Benson. “It just seems like we got the result we wanted with what we put into the program.”
Although the women’s team has depth this year, it will be without its two best runners from a year ago, Caitlin Lane and Kara Millhouse, who graduated.
Lane finished 16th overall in last year’s national championships, which was the second best finish by a Nittany Lion woman in the history of the program.
“Whenever you lose the caliber of Kara and Caitlin, it’s hard to replace them,” said head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan. “The loss of those two, we’re going to feel it quite strongly, but we definitely have the person power to fill those shoes. I expect our girls are kind of hungry for the top two spots, and they’ll go battle it out and see who can be top dog.”
The season is still too young to figure out who will fill those top two holes from this talented women’s roster, but Bower does not feel any pressure to replace Lane and Millhouse.
Instead, she is more motivated than ever for this year and feels everyone on the team shares that same mindset.
“I can definitely tell that people did their work over the summer and are ready to go and come back and put together a good season,” said Bower.