A bye week can be a difficult thing to handle in any sport, especially the week before the biggest event of the season. The Nittany Lions, however, seem to be welcoming it with open arms.
The vast majority of the team will be off this weekend, as it finishes up its first week of preparation for next Friday’s Big Ten Championships in Geneva, Ohio. The four members of the 4x800-relay team will travel to the Armory Track and Field Center in Manhattan, N.Y. to compete in the Millrose Games on Saturday.
Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan is looking forward to the week off.
“It’s a good time to have a down week for the most part,” she said. “We’re actually going to have a practice on Sunday so we’ll have the opportunity to bring everyone together at the end of the weekend and get prepared for competition starting up next week.”
Sullivan added that she felt that the team would be prepared for the Big Ten Championships in all facets, noting that the throws, jumps, and sprints have all had exceptional showings in the recent weeks, specifically mentioning that thrower Will Barr had been a standout.
Barr, a redshirt junior, broke his own school record in the 35-pound weight throw earlier in the season, throwing a distance of 67-11.75 (20.72).
“I prefer coming off an off week. [We] get an extra week, so we get to use this week to train really hard, and get healthy and get physically prepared for next week, so [it] doesn’t really bother me,” he said.
The hulking record-holder from Urbana, Ohio, sets the bar very high for himself.
“I definitely want a medal, that’s top three,” he said. “The Big Ten is the best conference in the country when it comes to weight throw, so that would be a huge accomplishment for me and I think it’s doable, so we’ll just have to wait until next week.”
He also added that competing against and beating some Big Ten foes in the last few weeks provided a confidence boost, as he defeated his first Big Ten competitors of the year at the SPIRE International, in Seattle, Wash.
Sprinter Brandon Bennett-Green isn’t planning on skipping a beat with the week off.
“We’re pretty much going to do the same thing we do in meets, just bring it to practice,” the junior said. “[We’re going to] bring the same intensity, same focus, same mindset, and just know what we’re training for and that we’ve got a big goal in mind.”
Bennett-Green, who was a part of the record setting 4x200 relay team, said that the sprinters were putting an emphasis into working on stamina, saying that it’s important to be able to run in as many events as the team needs for.
He said the team’s goal is to finish first at the Big Ten Championships on both the men’s and women’s sides.
While most of the team is already focused on the Big Ten meet, there are still four members of the squad focusing on this weekend.
The 4x800 relay team, consisting of senior Casimir Loxsom, senior Ricky West and freshmen Brannon Kidder and Za'Von Watkins, will be competing this week at the Millrose Games in Manhattan, NY.
Loxsom, who has set numerous records this season, noted the team’s laid back attitude regarding this weekend’s event.
“We’re just looking to go out and have a fun time. We’ve definitely got our eyes set on that collegiate record of 7:17.45,” he said.
Loxsom, who grew up in New Haven, Conn., is excited for the chance to run in the northeast tri-state area again. The Millrose Games, which have typically been held in Madison Square Garden, were moved to the Armory this year, which was the closest major track to Loxsom’s home.
“I’ve always watched it on TV and growing up in New England it was always a really big meet to watch,” he said.
An added honor and pressure that has been added to the Lions’ plate is their growing national prominence.
The most recent USTFCCCA ranking has the men ranked at fifth in the nation, which is the highest ranking that the team has ever held.
Sullivan refuses to let the high rankings get to the team’s heads.
“Rankings are kind of a double-edged sword. We respect the rankings, and we’re inspired by the rankings,” the seventh-year program director added. “It’s really inspiring to know that we have the caliber of program that is nationally ranked that high, but at the same time we know that’s just on paper.”
Loxsom, a senior, has been a part of three other teams in the Indoor Big Ten Championships.
“Whereas we’ve gone into other championship seasons as the underdog, we’re sort of a big major player this year, so I’m really excited to back up our ranking,” he said.
Sullivan added that in the past, the best finish that the men’s team has had in the Big Ten championships was third, and she thinks that this year’s team can match or beat that standing.
She knows, however, the strength of her conference peers.
“The conference is no slouch, there’s teams right with us and right behind us,” she said. “Even though we might have a little bit of an edge on the ranking, we know we’ve got a huge dogfight on our hands.”