This season, the only runner on the men’s cross country team who has competed in the NCAA Championships before wasn’t even on the Penn State roster last year.
Sam Masters ran in Nationals last year for the University of Tulsa, and has since enrolled at Penn State for graduate school.
Masters, who is majoring in kinesiology and seeking a Ph.D, said he decided to come to Penn State mainly for academic reasons.
“The biomechanics department is probably the most renowned one in the country,” Masters said. “There really wasn’t a decision to make once I got the offer to come here.”
The Tulsa team that Masters ran on last year finished 25th in the NCAA Championships, a meet that the Penn State men’s team failed to qualify for.
Despite this change, the grad student said there are many similarities between his Tulsa teammates and his new teammates at Penn State.
“No one here is happy with just being here. Everyone wants to run better, everyone wants to get somewhere as a team, and that was the highlight of Tulsa when I was there and that is the highlight of here,” Masters said.
Masters has experienced a huge culture change after running for four years at Tulsa, which is has the smallest enrollment of any Division I school in the country, to now running for Penn State, a school that has more than 40,000 students.
He said while running for a small school like Tulsa his team was still able to show a lot of Tulsa pride, but once he arrived at Penn State, he realized how much people in the community care and support the school.
“It really puts it into perspective that you’re running for something more than just yourself,” Masters said. “You’re running for not just a school, but a town and all the people who support this school.”
Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan was excited when the Tulsa grad decided to come to Penn State and she credits a lot of that toward how Penn State can bring a solid mix of both a quality academic and athletic experience.
Alford-Sullivan expects Masters to be one of the top finishers in races for the men’s side this year.
“He’ll definitely run as one of our front runners,” Alford-Sullivan said. “He’s very fit, very talented and a very aggressive runner. So we’re excited to see what he can really do.”
So far Masters has not disappointed, having top finishes in both of the two meets he’s run in this season.
He finished second on the team and 13th overall at the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational, and over the weekend he led the men’s team with a 17th overall finish against a stacked field at the Greater Louisville Classic.
Aside from contributing just on race days, Masters is using his championship experience to become a leader on his new team and to help give advice to the younger runners.
Sophomore Matt Fischer greatly appreciates the grad student being on the team to share thoughts and ideas with a runner who has raced in the biggest of meets, especially since some of the leaders from last year’s team graduated.
Fischer said that with Masters’ kinesiology background he is also able to bring a scientific approach to how their bodies deal with training.
“He is a biomechanics grad student and he knows so much about running and the body and how it works with the level of training that we’re at,” Fischer said. “His experience and his smarts about how to handle training and to do the right thing…his knowledge really helps builds the team up for sure.”
This is Masters’ final year of eligibility in cross country and it would be easy for him to think solely about personal goals, but he is still focusing on the team’s goals first rather than his own.
“My goal is to help the team get to Nationals,” Masters said. “If we don’t make it as a team then hopefully I’ll be able to place high enough at Regionals to where I can make it to Nationals, but really that’s secondary to the team.”