Three years ago, Penn State coach John Gondak mentally circled Sunday’s date on his calendar. He openly told his staff that was his target for the men to win a Big Ten championship — their first-ever Big Ten championship.
The Nittany Lions won the Big Ten Outdoor Track & Field Championship on Sunday after finishing with 117 points, ahead of runner-up Ohio State (103 points) and third-place Nebraska (97). It’s the first time the Penn State men’s team has ever won the conference title, be it indoors or outdoors.
“It feels great,” Gondak said. “This is something we’ve been trying for so many years.”
The Penn State men struggled in the early events Sunday, punctuated by a surprise disqualification in the 400-meter relay. But then Dan Chisena’s 400-meter performance changed everything.
The sophomore, who wasn’t even projected to make the final, somehow finished third in 46.16 seconds to earn the bronze — and that sparked the rest of his team. In the Nittany Lions’ final six events, they collected a pair of first-place finishes and two silver medals.
“We knew that if we stayed composed, we could get a lot of points in a lot of events,” men’s co-captain Xavier Smith said.
The women didn’t fare quite as well Sunday, as they placed third with 101 points behind Big Ten champ Purdue (133) and runner-up Minnesota (105.5).
Most exciting event: Men’s 1,600-meter relay
The last race of the weekend was undoubtedly the best, as it came down to the wire with multiple teams gunning for the gold. Penn State didn’t come out on top, but it was still memorable. Heading into the final lap, five teams — Ohio State, Penn State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa — were still battling for first. The Nittany Lions’ Isaiah Harris came around the final turn charging for the front but ran out of room as Ohio State’s Champ Page was able to hold him off by 0.27 seconds to give the Buckeyes the gold. The quartet for Penn State was Dan Chisena, Tyreek Mathis, Xavier Smith and Harris.
Big Ten MVP: Malik Moffett
Two first-place finishes — in the 200-meter dash and long jump — and a sixth-place finish in the 100-meter dash for Moffett gave the Nittany Lions 23 team points, the most by any athlete on the Penn State’s men’s team.
“I’m speechless,” Moffett said. “We were down after the 4x100 but rallied each other up and knew we could still get it down.”
Moffett currently ranks seventh in the long jump at the NCAA level.
Most important effort on Day 3: Isaiah Harris
Harris won his fourth consecutive 800-meter title with a time of 1:49.68 and anchored the 1,600-meter relay team to a silver medal. That means Harris is on pace for eight 800-meter conference titles, between the indoor and outdoor seasons, which would be a first in school history. Harris is just a sophomore, and he’s already the first since Casimir Loxsom in 2010-11to win the outdoor 800 in his freshman and sophomore seasons.
Women’s MVP: Danae Rivers
The true freshman raced the 1,500/800-meter double, which some consider too tough — but River had two amazing races Sunday. In the 1,500, Rivers challenged Michigan’s Jaimie Phelan for the gold and came up just short by 0.69 seconds. About an hour later, Rivers would claim her first Big Ten outdoor title as she beat out Ohio State’s Rachel Weber with a time of 2:04.14.
What’s next for the Nittany Lions: Regionals
The East Regionals will be next for the Penn State men and women as they will travel to Lexington, Ky., on May 25-27. The qualifiers for the East Regionals — which will consist of the region’s top 48 times and distances — will be announced later this week.