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Bulls have a double agenda

The USF men and women’s cross country teams compete in the Penn State National on Saturday with dual objectives.

The teams enter the meet looking for a strong performance, but are also focused on reaching several other goals set two weeks before the team hosts the Conference USA championships Nov. 1.

“Our sport is unique in that we can use meets to not only compete, but to work on something for future meets,” Coach Greg Thiel said. “Unlike, say, (USF football coach) Jim Leavitt, who has to focus on winning the game at hand and practicing later in the week, we can essentially compete and practice at the same time.

“A good performance is not our only measure of success (at Penn State). How we fare in reaching some of the goals set by the team and by (Assistant Coach) Rita (Arndt).”

Arndt said the meet was a culmination of the teams’ season, and that the meet would be about the teams taking chances.

“This whole year, it has all been about experience and the athletes learning to push themselves beyond what they thought they were capable of,” she said. “The runners are learning to push themselves out there and take risks.”

The team is passing on an opportunity to practice at the site of NCAA cross country championships in Iowa, opting to instead compete at Penn State.

Arndt said competing in the meet instead would give the team an opportunity to improve in ways simple conditioning does not present.

“Competing against such high-quality teams that take risks can be rewarding,” she said. “If you get into what you think is over your head, only to perform well, then you have proven to yourself and to everyone else what you are capable of. That is what we are after: a chance to further prove to ourselves that we can compete.”

The varsity teams last competed Oct. 3 at the Notre Dame Invitational, a meet in which many of the top teams in the country participated. Saturday USF will not face competition quite as stiff, but it will run against five nationally-ranked women’s teams, led by No. 9 Columbia, and one ranked men’s team, No. 9 Colorado State.

Notre Dame presented a chance for the teams to see how they stand nationally, going against some the premier programs in the country. Penn State offers an opportunity for the teams to prepare for what will be the most important match of the season.

But the team has to keep the season in perspective for the meets to mean, anything, Arndt said.

“These runners come from high school programs where they were used to winning, and to come here where they virtually have to start over could be difficult. But if they stay focused and make the best of the situation, the team will improve.

“The personality of the team is what turns the season into a learning experience (instead of a disappointment),” Arndt said. “The guys we’ve got are optimistic and are up for the challenge. They know the hits they’ve taken this season will make us a better team next season or even at the conference tournament.”