On a beautiful Friday at the spacious Blue-White Golf Course, Penn State cross country coach Beth Alford-Sullivan finally coached her team to victory at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships in her 14th season at the helm.
“It’s pretty cool,” said junior Victoria Perri, who placed the Nittany Lions with a fourth-place finish individually. “Coach has been working very hard with us, and she is a great coach that really deserves this victory. I’m happy we can give it to her.”
If the Big East champions left the door open at all, it was by no more than a crack as Georgetown narrowly came in second by the slim margin of 63 points to the Nittany Lions’ 61.
“What a thrill. What a great way to get a win and steal one at home,” said Alford-Sullivan.
“Going into the race, we really focused on securing one of those top two finishes, but as a team, we said: ‘You know what? Let’s try and beat [Georgetown]. If they open the door, let’s steal it,’ and so in we went.”
After coming up empty at the regional championships time after time, Alford-Sullivan and her team were probably prepared to claim the victory by any means necessary to finally get the one-up on rivals from around the Mid-Atlantic.
The first place finish even came as a surprise to the team, who going into the meet were almost conceding the victory to the defending national champions and ninth-ranked Georgetown, or even No. 25 Villanova who coming into the meet had claimed three consecutive Mid-Atlantic Regional championships.
“I was just so surprised that we had won,” said Perri. “I think I just assumed we got second place, and when I heard that we had won, I was so excited that we could pull that off as a team together and that everybody counted and that everybody mattered today.”
Senior Brooklyne Ridder, who had the highest regional finish of her career at sixth place, was pleasantly surprised with the final results, as well.
“Wow, this is just kind of a shock,” said Ridder, icing down her knee after the hard-fought victory. “We haven’t automatically qualified for nationals since I’ve been here and since Coach Sullivan has been here.”
With the victory at Regionals, Ridder’s Penn State cross country career comes full circle as she was a freshman on the team that claimed the Big Ten Championship back in 2009.
The 15th-ranked Nittany Lions will now shift their focus to Saturday for the NCAA Championships in Louisville, Ky., after receiving one of the two automatic qualifying bids that were up for grabs at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships.
“This win definitely boosts our confidence so much,” said Ridder, who competed in the final home meet of her Penn State cross country career. “All of us now have a solid race behind us, and we’re excited. We’re ready to get after it.”