This Sunday will show how cross country operates differently from just about every other collegiate sport.
While most Penn State teams have either a whole season or a tournament to try and earn a Big Ten title, the cross country teams will only have one race to accomplish that same feat.
No matter what has happened so far this season, all of the Big Ten teams will show up at East Lansing, Mich. completely even with one another. Then, in less than 30 minutes, the race will be over and the 2012 conference champs will be crowned.
It goes without saying that with this much on the line the Nittany Lions will not be treating this meet like any regular race.
With only 12 teams and around 100 runners competing, this meet will be considered one of the smaller meets on Penn State’s schedule, but this will only add to the intense environment.
“Every single person you beat is someone you want to beat with an intensity,” coach Beth Alford-Sullivan said. “We just have to prepare the best we can and it comes down to the team that pieces together the right stuff on that day. They’ve got to carry a swagger in. They’ve got to carry a confidence in, and I think both our teams can do that.”
The Penn State women will be coming into the meet with plenty of confidence, knowing that they are one of the few teams who have a real shot in winning the Big Ten on the women’s side. The women’s biggest competition will be Michigan as well as Michigan State and Minnesota, two teams they have already beaten this season.
Junior Rebekka Simko is looking forward to running against these rival teams that Penn State is familiar with.
“It just makes it fun,” Simko said. “This is going to be a smaller field so every person you beat is a point you’re gaining.”
It will be three years since the Penn State women raised the Big Ten trophy. On that team were seniors Natalie Bower and Brooklyne Ridder, who were freshmen at the time.
Ridder said she would like nothing more than to finish her cross country career the same way she started it.
“I would give just about anything to win this Big Ten title,” Ridder said. “It would be the perfect ending and it would just top off this senior year cross country season perfectly.”
The Nittany Lion men may not be going into the Big Tens thinking about a conference title, but they want to prove that they are not a team to sleep on.
The men’s team has been waiting anxiously to rebound from its disappointing 41st place result in the Adidas Wisconsin Invite two weeks ago.
“We all have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder right now, and we go into this meet with a lot of the conference probably not expecting much from us,” said junior Nick Scarpello. “If everything goes as planned we should be able to surprise a couple teams. I can’t think of another team in the Big Ten right now that’s more motivated to make some noise than Penn State.”
The goal for the men heading into this meet is to place in the top five, which was their goal at the beginning of the year.
A top-five finish will not cut it for the women’s team, however, who is thinking first place or bust.
“We’ve been waiting for this and I think this is our year,” said Simko.