Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan addressed her women’s team after its regional race on Friday and was pleased to tell them they came in second place behind Georgetown.
The women’s team had achieved its goal, and the day couldn’t have been better. Then, out of nowhere, assistant coach John Gondak came running over and alerted Alford-Sullivan that the Penn State women didn’t get second, but had actually beaten the defending champion Georgetown to claim the Mid-Atlantic Regional crown.
What ensued was an emotional scene at the Penn State team tent, with runners wiping tears from their faces and the team collectively doing a “We Are” chant that echoed over the entire Blue and White golf course.
“It was kind of a shock actually,” senior Brooklyne Ridder said. “Our goal today was just to automatically qualify, and over-succeeding that is awesome.”
The Penn State women certainly exceeded what was expected of them by scoring 61 points and edging out Georgetown, the reigning national champions, by only two points.
With the regional championship, the entire women’s team earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Cross Country Championships.
The women defended their home course and showed their dominance with an excellent finishing stretch that resulted in three of their runners finishing in the top 10 overall.
Junior Victoria Perri capitalized on her first experience running at Regionals by completing the course in 20:34 and finishing in fourth place overall to lead the women’s championship team.
“We went out the first mile a little bit faster than I thought we were going to, but I felt pretty comfortable and pretty relaxed,” Perri said. “Once we came through there, I was hoping that I would be able to hold it and keep feeling good.”
Over the past five years, the Penn State women have always been a contender in their region, but they were never able to get over the hump and place higher than third, let alone win the region.
In coach Alford-Sullivan’s 14 years coaching the Nittany Lions, this is her first team from either the men or women’s sides to win the region.
The coach said the victory was a complete surprise, and she was thrilled her team was able to steal the win at home, especially against their rivals that focus heavily on cross country.
“We’ve been eating their dirt a lot,” Alford-Sullivan said. “We’ve been third and fourth in this region so many times and qualified on to the national championships, but this time it’s kind of fun to step out in the lead and to really have that confidence.”
The men’s race was also tight with the Georgetown men ultimately winning, beating second place Villanova by one point to win the region.
The Nittany Lion men also had a respectable performance, finishing fifth with 147 points.
Graduate student Sam Masters was the highlight for the men, finishing 12th overall with a time of 30:48 over the 10,000-meter course.
Masters said this was the best he has ever felt after a race, and running on the team’s home course had everything to do with his great time.
“I knew exactly where every turn was,” Masters said. “I probably ran 20 meters shorter than everyone else, apart from my own teammates, because I positioned myself to go around every corner as efficiently as possible.”
Masters has a chance to earn an at-large individual bid, and he hopes to be traveling with the women’s team to Nationals.
The national championships will be held on Nov. 17 at Louisville, Ky., which is a course that the Penn State women have already enjoyed success on earlier this season, placing fifth in the Greater Louisville Classic.
The Nittany Lion women are going to try and carry this momentum from their unexpected victory and hopefully look to surprise more teams at Nationals.
“It boosts our confidence so much,” Ridder said. “We’re going to go onto this feeling good. I think with all of us with a solid race behind us, we’re excited. We’re ready to get after it.”