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Coach Zins is ready to lead his athletes to victory.

Hawk nation is ready to fly alongside IUP’s runners.

The cold weather interferes with a lot of activities, but not the IUP cross country teams. It still may be cold out, but that doesn’t change the fact that the season is right around the corner.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic by far is nothing new right now, but it’s still a topic to deal with in the sports world. The training can always be a dilemma for any Division II athlete at IUP, or any athlete in general right now, but many will overcome without a problem.

“We’ve been training since March,” head coach Joey Zins said. “Other than a couple break periods in May and November, the team has been preparing so that we would be ready when allowed to return to competition. Our team has taken a big picture approach knowing that the work we have been putting in will eventually be rewarded.

“Training has been a challenge this winter due to the weather, but the team is figuring out a way to not let the cold, snow and ice slow them down.”

Training will do a great deal for an athlete, and when starting the training as early as possible, that will bump any team’s motivation. Resilience is a word that can be used to describe a team like IUP, a team that finds ways to get it done.

The team is set for flight with a mini-invitational meet Saturday at IUP. This is considered the “Welcome Back” meet and should be a good warmup for the Hawks; however, IUP will not have too much action this season, as it is a shorter one.

The team will compete in the California University of Pennsylvania invitational at California on March 6, and then the PSAC Championships will be held March 20. So, what does a shorter season mean for the Crimson Hawks?

“Right now, the number one goal is to have a meet,” Zins said. “I want our student athletes to be able to put on the IUP uniform and stand on the starting line. This is a moment we have all been thinking about for a very long time.

“As long as we can stay healthy, and the scheduled meets take place, I am confident in our team’s ability to compete at a high level once they are out there.”

The goal for the Hawks is to be out there competing, which is the most important, and good things will follow. Some rosters are stacked with veteran experience and some a very big mix. The Hawks have a melting pot of very young and veteran talent on the team.

“We have 10 freshmen on the men’s distance squad, which is the most we have had in any single year since I started coaching at IUP in 2009,” Zins said. “Marco Cardone (freshman, political science) and Nate Kuntz (freshman, kinesiology) both stood out during fall practices and consistently ran among our top five during time trials.

“Mentioning a bit on the women’s side, Tori James (freshman, nursing) has really stood out, and she has been able to run with our top runners in practices since arriving on campus.”

So, with 10 freshmen on the roster, that means the Hawks will have a bright future. The mix of talent though with the upperclassmen sure does go a long way as well. Speaking of veteran talent on the team, the Hawks have a few runners who have improved their skills dealing with their speed.

“Since we last competed for last winter, both Erin McGrath (sophomore, accounting) from the women’s team and Evan Weaver (junior, natural science) have made incredible strides as distance runners,” Zins said. “They ran well during last cross country and indoor track seasons, but they are at a whole different level now.”

Looks like the Hawks have some surprising talent on both the men’s and women’s squads. A shorter season means you do not have much time to tell who your opponents are and what they have done in the offseason.

“It’s been so long since competition took place that we really don’t know what other teams are going to look like,” Zins said. “Our most important meet will be the PSAC Championships on March 20. I believe both teams are capable of improving on their performances from 2019.”

Competition is always nice, but going out and doing what you love can mean the most to athletes.

“Their athletic careers have been put on hold and taken away from them for a year,” Zins said. “It is hard for some people to truly understand how terrible that is. The team has remained extremely dedicated despite the loss of previous seasons.

“We are ready to be back.”

With the min-invitational coming up, there is no doubt that the IUP campus and community will be ready to cheer on their Hawks to great success.

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