Penn State is gearing up for the 2019 season with its first official race, the Lock Haven Dolan Cross Country Duals, which takes place Friday.
The team has been officially practicing for two weeks, and coach John Gondak spoke of the position the men’s and women’s teams are in heading into the season.
“Our women's team has traditionally been very strong here,” Gondak said.
In the past four years, the women have been top-20 in the NCAA, winning three of the last four regional championships. They are starting the season ranked first in the region and 14th nationally.
“Our women are led by five outstanding athletes who have been mainstays in this program the last many years,” Gondak said. “We’re excited about their fitness and where things look right now.”
The returners include juniors Danae Rivers and Alison Willingmyre, who both had top ten finishes in the Mid-Atlantic Regional meet last year.
“The interesting thing or the key for the women's team this year is who is going to step up to be number six and seven,” Gondak said. “The interesting thing about our sport is, everyone lines up, and on that day your one through seven can be the best seven for that day. That's why it's important to have a good sixth and seventh in case someone who is normally in your top five has an off day.”
Last year the men’s team placed fifth in the Mid-Atlantic Region meet and failed to qualify for the NCAA National meet. The team was young, with three of the top seven being freshmen.
“This year I think that we got a special group,” Gondak said. “The bulk of the team now is juniors and sophomores so they've been through it, they understand it, and they really put in a great summer of training.”
The men are currently ranked sixth in the Mid-Atlantic Division for the preseason, and are currently returning sophomore Alex Tomasko, who finished top-20 in the Mid-Atlantic Regional meet.
“I told them after a practice, the way things have been going they are going to surprise a lot of people,” Gondak said.
In the past, both the men’s and women’s teams have seen success at the Lock Haven Dolan Duals. In the 2017 and 2018 seasons, both teams finished with a perfect score of 15 points, with all scoring runners coming in one through fifth place.
“I think from the most part what we've seen so far, both men and women are pretty excited that they're responding pretty well from the training we’re doing, so, I think it's going to be a great fall,” Gondak said.