No matter the sport, great teams are defined by how they produce against the best competition on the biggest stages.
Given that fact alone, this year’s women’s cross-country team might have the makings of one of the great teams in Penn State’s history.
With the postseason part of the cross country schedule less than two weeks starting with the Big Ten Championships on Oct. 28, the Penn State women will be entering the most important part of their season.
In their four meets so far this season the runners on the women’s squad have proved that they are not afraid when it comes to lining up against the nation’s top programs.
In their last meet at the Adidas Wisconsin Invite the Nittany Lions beat out 13 nationally ranked programs, including their Big Ten rival Michigan State.
Junior Rebekka Simko, who finished first for Penn State at Wisconsin, said she does not shy away when it comes to racing against tough competition.
“When you go to a meet like Wisconsin it is just so much more exciting with some of the top girls and teams in the country,” Simko said. “Knowing that some of the top girls in the country are up there in the race it’s like I got to get up there and get a low time for the team.”
Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan said that she doesn’t give necessarily motivational speeches to the team before its races, but that she does provide the team with vital information on how to perform well.
“We do a lot of reinforcement of the positives…we do a lot to inform them of the competition and the strategy of the course and what’s going to be expected of the day,” Alford-Sullivan said. “But of course there is going to be some pep up in there as well, so it’s a whole combination.”
The runners on the women’s squad feel that their great depth of talent is the biggest reason for their ability to beat strong competition this year.
“We have so many girls that have put a lot of work in the summer,” junior Emily Gianotti said. “So we’re use to training against really good people just in practice, and we’re able to apply that in competition.”
The Penn State women have highlighted this depth the entire season so far, with different combinations of runners rounding out their top five-team places in each of their meets.
The team is also benefiting from the runners ability to finish races in a pack, which was evident in its last meet when only 32 seconds separated the team’s first and fifth finishers.
This type of close finish was not a fluke for the team either.
Alford-Sullivan said that the women have been averaging around a 30-second time gap between their first and fifth runners in all their meets this season.
This pack atmosphere has given the Lion an edge over other top schools who rely solely on one or two standout runners.
“It makes it so much better when you’re in a race and you know you have a teammate right in front or right behind you,” Simko said. “It’s so much more fun that way.”
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