Heading into this cross-country season, junior Victoria Perri was almost two years removed from the last time she actually ran a race for Penn State.
Seeing limited time in her freshman year, her best finish came at the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational, where she ran the 6,000-meter course in 23:23 and finished 73rd overall. Two weeks ago, Perri, now a junior, ran in the same meet, but this time she finished with a blazing time of 21:20, which earned her second place overall.
Perri has now finished second overall in both meets this season, and her huge jump in contribution to the women’s team was a shock to not only her teammates and coaching staff, but to Perri herself.
“I was definitely very, very surprised, and I think a lot of people were probably surprised,” said Perri. “I haven’t had nearly that much success so far since I’ve been here, but I think being consistent and listening to coach and staying the course was really a big contributor to how I did.”
Before this season, Perri’s true athletic abilities were a mystery to the team due to her constant battle with injuries.
After only running in a few cross-country races her freshman year, Perri got injured during the track season with a stress fracture and then suffered another stress fracture the summer leading up to her sophomore cross-country season.
This resulted in her getting redshirted her sophomore year in cross-country, and coach Beth Alford-Sullivan deciding to have her focus on training instead of coming back too fast into racing, which is proving now to be a wise decision.
Perri’s cross-country teammate and roommate, junior Marta Klebe, is proud of her friend’s newfound success.
“She definitely deserves it more than anyone I know, because she’s always wanted to be this good, and she’s definitely worked very hard for it,” said Klebe. “She’s had some bad luck with getting hurt all the time and trying to get back from all her injuries, so it’s really good to see it pay off.”
Perri’s strong start could not have come at a better time for this women’s team, who is still looking to find someone to replace the spots left after its top two runners, Caitlin Lane and Kara Millhouse, graduated last year.
When Perri was asked if she feels she could fill their spots, she said she would love to come anywhere close to what Lane and Millhouse did in their careers at Penn State, and that they were two of the most successful people she has ever come in contact with.
“Honestly, a lot of my career as an athlete I have to give credit to Caitlin Lane,” said Perri. “She’s been more than an amazing leader for me, and just her work ethic has shown me what I have to do to ever try and fill some sort of her shoes.”
Although Perri says she would like to be one of the top runners on the team, she said her main goal is to contribute in making the team as whole be successful no matter whom the best runners end up being.
Natalie Bower, one of the captains of the women’s team, is excited with Perri’s surprise contributions to a Penn State women’s squad that was already expected to do well this year before Perri burst onto the scene.
Bower also said she thinks Perri’s success can help the team internally by driving other runners on the women’s squad to want to get even better.
“It’s awesome to know that she’s going to be such a contributor to the team,” said Bower. “But on the same page, it definitely gets the other girls motivated, including myself, just to be able to see that she’s doing so good so early in the season, and it gives us motivation to feed off of.”
Klebe feels the same way and thinks it can be a valuable lesson, especially for the runners that may be further down the depth chart to see Perri have this unexpected great start to the season.
“It just shows that it’s really up to anyone, even if they’re not one of the top girls. If you work hard enough, you can definitely get there,” Klebe said. “It’s not like the top five girls are set in stone, so it’s definitely motivating for everyone to see with hard work anyone can be one of top girls on the team.”