It will be no surprise that the runners who line up for the start of the Big Ten Cross Country Championships this Sunday will be the best racers each team has to offer.
For some of Penn State’s top runners, however, this will be their first experience standing at that starting line with the conference title at stake.
But do not mistake any of these first-time runners’ inexperience with this meet as being a liability for the Nittany Lions.
“I’ve got so much confidence in these guys,” head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan said. “It’s about executing now and carrying that confidence in there. Believe that you’re that good and go out and there and execute.”
The Nittany Lion women enter the Big Tens with a legitimate chance to come away with a conference title.
But to do this, they need a big performance from junior Victoria Perri, who is one of these new comers to the conference championships.
Perri has been a key piece to the women’s team, finishing in the top three places for Penn State in all its races so far this season.
The junior said she has tried to get a feel for the what the conference championships are like by talking to people who have ran in the meet before, including former Penn State runner and last year’s overall winner, Caitlin Lane.
“This time last year, I was at home cheering for the girls, and this year I actually get to participate in it,” Perri said. “So I’m definitely more excited than nervous because it is my first opportunity to do it.”
For graduate student Sam Masters, he is looking at his first opportunity running in the Big Ten Championships as just another race.
This type of calmness is to be expected from Masters, who is no stranger to running in conference championships.
While at Tulsa, Masters ran in three Conference USA Championships with his team, winning the title all three times.
Since this is his last year of eligibility, the Tulsa grad stressed what a high result in this meet would signify for him.
“It would mean that I did what I wanted to do when I came here,” Masters said. “A good finish at conference would be important to me because it would show [Penn State] how much I appreciated the chance to be able to race.”
The men’s team will also be relying on another first-time runner in redshirt freshman Robby Creese, who has consistently been a top finisher for the Lions.
Although he did not run cross country last year, Creese has experienced success in Big Ten meets in track, winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in both the indoor and outdoor seasons.
Seniors Brooklyne Ridder and Natalie Bower are examples that Penn State teams can have success with inexperienced runners in the Big Ten Championships.
Both were a part of the women’s team that won the Big Ten when they were only in their freshmen year.
Now both of them are the most experienced runners on the team, going into their fourth straight year running in this meet, and Ridder is confident this new batch of first-timers can perform well.
“I think that we’ve been preparing them throughout the whole entire season, so they know what to expect,” Ridder said. “We’ve told them our experiences, and I think we’re ready to go.”