Indiana University of Pennsylvania is known for dominating in the PSAC. For many, like myself, IUP’s basketball program and men’s football team come to mind first. IUP and its athletics program strive to put top-tier athletes and scholars in every program the university offers, and the IUP Cross Country team is the perfect example of this.
From the coach down to the first semester freshman, IUP Cross Country sets goals and works for them in the classroom and on the course. Despite the current pandemic canceling the fall season, Coach Joey Zins and senior runner Sam Lenze (senior, biochemistry) are practicing like nothing has changed.
Although the spring season is unlikely to happen because many cross country runners also participate on the track and field team, nothing stops this cross country team from persevering and looking forward.
After a successful 2019 season, the Crimson Hawks announced a recruiting class of 17 student-athletes consisting of 12 men and 5 women. Coach Zins is extremely excited about this new class starting.
“We are very excited about our incoming classes this fall and have high expectations for them,” The men’s class is the largest class we have had since I have been here. They are a deep and talented group that has an opportunity to do some special things during their college careers.
“On the women’s side, we are adding two freshmen who both placed in the top 40 at the PIAA Championships last fall.” He also added how they will fit in with the current roster, “Both classes should complement our returners well. We have a good blend of newcomers and experienced runners on this year’s team.”
Lenze offered some advice to this year's newcomers, “Two words: Personal Relationships. It is not enough this season to just be fast and show what it looks like to love cross country and want to train even when it is hard. I cannot give to the freshmen and sophomores the feeling of winning a meet or setting a personal record, but I can invest in them individually and purposefully.”
Lenze is a seasoned veteran on this team and knows what it takes to be a team-player and succeed in and out of the classroom.
He puts the individual and team aspect into the sport, “The fastest runner on the team should never feel comfortable because every man on the team should be fighting him for that spot,” said Lenze. “That is how the slowest guy can have the greatest impact and that's why every runner on the team matters, now more than ever, and no one can be overlooked or looked down upon. Cross country doesn't have a bench because we need every single guy on the team to be giving their all 100% of the time.”
Dealing with the ongoing pandemic is tough, but not too tough for this squad. The cross country team has still been putting in work during their free-time. Coach Zins had nothing but good things to say about the team's training.
“Until a few weeks ago, they had been training on their own. Since returning to campus, they can voluntarily meet in small groups for runs. We are currently unable to practice as a team, but we are preparing to begin practicing on Sept. 14. We have a very dedicated group, and many of them are taking advantage of this time to continue working to get better.”
The team’s upperclassmen have persevered through this tough time like real champions do. Men and women alike are working daily to better themselves and set examples.
Coach Zins spoke of the hardship for this team and how they have handled it, “I think our seniors have handled the disappointment and uncertainty as well as anyone could possibly expect,” said coach Zins. They have stayed positive and hopeful for future seasons.”
“I want nothing more than to see them have the opportunity to compete again during the spring. Fortunately, they will be able to retain their eligibility, even with a spring season, so they will also have the chance to return in fall 2021 for their final cross country season should they choose to do so. Their willingness and initiative to both continue with their training and guide their younger teammates has frankly been both admirable and inspiring.”
Admirable and inspiring: two words that not only explain IUP’s Cross Country team, but the entirety of the department that has had to persevere through so much adversity. This team is the embodiment of what IUP stands for and represents.