The Penn State track team – particularly the middle-distance squad – has been making plenty of noise this year. That shouldn’t be surprising. On the men’s side, sophomore Isaiah Harris has become the leader of the middle distance team while Danae Rivers, a freshman from Connecticut, has blown the doors off of the competition in her first year for the women’s squad.
Isaiah Harris is coming off a terrific freshman year after winning three Big Ten titles and breaking the Big Ten record in the indoor 800m. He believes that a lot of his confidence and belief stems from what he accomplished his freshman year. “I had high expectations for myself from the beginning of the year because of what I achieved last year,” Harris said. “I started off where I wanted to be.”
In 2016, Harris qualified for Olympic Trials – which are broken into three rounds – and reached the final, placing sixth. To put that in perspective, he needed a top three finish to qualify for the Olympics. “Knowing that I can go through the rounds and still consistently run fast times in the short amount of time of rest – it goes to show that my strength is where I would want it to be and I can trust what (Coach) Gondak is doing in training. Believing in what I do everyday will pay off in the end is big,” Harris said. “It’s a confidence booster knowing I can compete well against professional athletes. I can go into each race and not have to be nervous.”
Harris’ success has naturally led to more of a leadership role on the team. He finds himself giving every piece of knowledge that he can to his teammates. His confidence must be high after this weekend when he ran the mile (an event he hadn’t run since his senior year of high school) in a blistering 4:05.89.
He isn’t the only standout on this young and talented middle-distance team. Rivers, the immensely gifted freshman, has made her mark early on as well. In her first three meets as a Nittany Lion, Rivers (repeatedly) broke the school record in the indoor 800m.
She didn’t really expect anything in particular heading into the first race of her first meet where she broke the school record in the 600m. “I guess coach had an idea, but I just went out and did it,” Rivers laughed. “I didn’t know I had broken the record until one of my teammates said ‘Oh look!’ and I looked at the scoreboard.”
The freshman never could’ve imagined all of this immediate success. She noted that building a base up during cross country season was key to come in and meet the new year strong even with the transition into college life.
“It’s a commitment – something that I do everyday – and it does keep you on your toes because your putting in this many hours of track and you only have so much time for [everything else],” Rivers said.
She hopes to stay on the same pace in terms of learning how to race in college, but all of her success has shifted her goals slightly now that she knows how capable she is at the collegiate level. Rivers has an infectious personality, giving off a very positive vibe that almost certainly helps her in training day in and day out.
Harris had nothing but good things to say about Rivers when asked about his freshman teammate. “Danae – she’s amazing. She’s just a really awesome person in general,” Harris said. “She’s really nice and really humble. Just knowing how she did in high school, everyone expected big things from her. [This level of success] wasn’t out of her reach to begin.”
Heading into the Big Ten Indoor Championships next weekend, Penn State is expected to make waves. The Penn State women are ranked No. 14 in the nation — the highest-ranked team in the conference. Both middle-distance stars are primed to earn Big Ten titles with Rivers having the conference-best time in the 600m and 800m, and Harris recording the nation’s top 600m time and a conference second-best time in the 800m.