ALTOONA, PA – Over the past two seasons since Matt and Heidi Manfred assumed the co-head coaching jobs of the Penn State Altoona men’s and women’s cross country teams, they have overseen consistent improvement. The 2011 season was highlighted by some strong individual showings and solid team performances. The Manfreds were even named the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference’s Coaches of the Year in women’s cross country at the conclusion of last season. But in 2012, the third-year head coaches are looking for their teams to take the next step.

“We are definitely going to ask the teams to take a big step forward from the past,” said Matt. “This is the 11th season of cross country at Penn State Altoona. The first decade was great and saw a lot of success, but this group is poised to take it to the next level.”

The men’s team returns one of its leading runners from last year, sophomore Michael Lock (Juniata County, PA/Juniata), as well as fellow sophomore Matt Body (Landenberg, PA/Kennett). Lock earned a spot on the 2011 AMCC All-Conference squad.

“Michael hopes to pick up where he left off last season, and we think he can,” said Matt. “Both Michael and Matt are well ahead of where they were last year in the team time trial at the beginning of the season.”

On the women’s side, junior Kristen Cummings (Pittsburgh, PA/Brentwood) and sophomore Missy Scandrol (South Park, PA/South Park) each made the AMCC’s All-Conference team last season and look to continue leading their team this fall. Cummings and Scandrol are two in a group of five returners from last year’s women’s squad, which includes sophomores Chelsea Davis (Harrington Park, NJ/Garfield), Amanda Payne (Leesburg, VA/Heritage), and Megan Woodward (Hampton, VA/Kecoughtan).

“Kristen and Missy both put in a solid summer of training, and in our preseason tryout, both women had significant improvements in their finishing times compared to where they were last year,” said Heidi. “We anticipate Chelsea, Amanda, and Megan to use their experience of already having a collegiate cross country season on their resumes as an advantage to their performances this fall.”

The men’s squad welcomes eight newcomers to its ranks in 2012, seven of whom are freshmen. In particular, Matt is excited by the potential of three new runners: sophomore Ryan Gallagher (Altoona, PA/Altoona) and freshmen Jason Anna (Slippery Rock, PA/Slippery Rock) and Jacob Dean (Shade Gap, PA/Southern Huntingdon).

“Man for man, it’s as talented a group as we have ever added,” said Matt. “Once they get training and racing together, a lot of good things could happen.”

Heidi also looks to the four new runners on the women’s team – sophomores Anna Griffith (Murrysville, PA/Franklin Regional), Patricia Mantero (San Juan, PR/Academia del Perpetuo Socorro), and Macy Yingling (Bedford, PA/Bedford) and freshman Natasha Csicsmann (Chantilly, VA/Chantilly) – to make an impact this year.

“All of these women come in with past experience as cross country runners and are ready to contribute to the success of the team,” said Heidi. “We anticipate the 2012 women’s team to be the best squad we’ve had in a long time.”

The most significant conference race of the season, the AMCC Championships, will be held at nearby Ebensburg Country Club on October 27. Less than a month prior to that, Penn State Altoona will have the opportunity to preview the course when it races in the Mount Aloysius College Invitational, which is also held at the Ebensburg course.

“The championship course varies greatly from year to year depending on what venue is selected,” said Heidi. “It will be to our athletes’ advantage to be able to sleep in their own beds and not make a long bus trip to a further-away location. We anticipate that being beneficial to their performances when we hit the end of October.”

The Penn State Altoona men’s and women’s cross country teams open their season on Saturday, September 1 at 10:30 AM in the Seton Hill University Griffin Classic in Greensburg, PA.