The head coach and runners on the women’s cross country team will say that they avoid letting the weekly national rankings have a huge affect on the team.
But one thing they can’t avoid is the fact that the rankings say this year’s Penn State team is one of the best in the country.
The women’s cross country team is ranked No. 14 in this week’s National Coaches’ Poll, which is a three-spot improvement from its No. 17 ranking last week.
The women have been on a dominating tear this early part of the season, winning two of their first three meets, and the voters are starting to take notice.
After starting the season unranked, the team has now broken into the top 15 in only a four-week span.
Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan is not the least bit surprised with this quick rise in the coaches’ poll so far this season.
“I think we’re definitely a very good team,” Alford-Sullivan said. “I think we’re a national caliber team and how good we’ll be is to be determined, but it’s great to show a top 15 ranking, and I think that’s very viable of things.”
The Nittany Lions can credit this recent jump to their solid fifth place finish at the Greater Louisville Classic, where they were able to finish ahead of top programs, including then No. 8-ranked Vanderbilt.
However, Vanderbilt is still ranked two spots ahead of the Lions at the No. 12 spot in this week’s poll, which is something that does not bother Alford-Sullivan at all.
“The difference between those two things is very minimal, and the difference between us over the weekend was very minimal,” Alford-Sullivan said. “So I think giving them the nod and keeping them in front of us is just fine in this stage.”
The women’s squad last year was considered one of the better teams in recent history for Penn State, but it never was ranked higher than No. 13 in the national coaches’ poll.
With this year’s squad already ranked in the top 15, it is easy to think this team has the potential to be better than last year’s team.
The runners, however, feel it is difficult to make that assumption based solely off the rankings because the two teams had different dynamics.
“Last year, we had two clear front runners in Kara Millhouse and Caitlin Lane,” junior Emily Giannotti said. “This year, we have more of a pack atmosphere where any given day the order of finish for the first five or six girls could totally shift.”
As of now, the Nittany Lion women are the third-highest ranked Big Ten team in the country, trailing only Michigan and Michigan State who are No. 8 and No. 10 respectively.
The Lions have steadily been moving up the rankings week-by-week, and thoughts of possibly cracking the top 10 are not a stretch for this talented squad.
“If we keep our focus, I think anything is possible,” sophomore Abbie Benson said.