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Homecoming weekend is a time to watch the annual parade, catch up with alumni and stand front row at the Pusha T concert.
The homecoming weekend also generally marks the midpoint of Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s fall sports season.
Because of this, I have chosen two athletes, one male and one female, as my midseason players to watch for the rest of their seasons.
For the IUP men, I selected football player Carl Fleming (senior, criminology) as the male athlete to watch.
The University of Pittsburgh transfer is the Crimson Hawks’ leading tackler this season, despite not suiting up for action in IUP’s 26-0 victory over Seton Hill University Sept. 21.
As a senior on a defense that has surrendered just 27 points in four games, Fleming is not bothered by the pressures of being a leader.
“I don’t feel like it’s a burden at all,” Fleming said. “If anything, it’s an expectation of being a senior.”
Fleming’s play definitely merits his choice as a player to watch. Last year, he was named to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Association first team and was the most valuable player in the PSAC Championship game after recording 12 tackles and a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Fleming also feels no pressure to try and replicate the season he had last year.
“I just play football and everything else will take care of itself. It’s not just about me, it’s about us, because we are one team, and that’s all that matters to me.”
This season, he has been averaging 12 tackles per game and said he hopes to continue his gridiron career in the National Football League after his days with IUP are complete.
Fleming will lead his IUP team Saturday when Millersville University of Pennsylvania comes to town. Millersville is 0-4 and has been outscored by opponents 192-36.
On the women’s side, I was struck with the tough challenge of naming one athlete as my player to watch.
After a lot of research and deliberation, I finally chose Sam Thompson.
Thompson (senior, biology) is a leader both on the course and off for head coach Joey Zins’ women’s cross country team.
Zins noted that Thompson has steadily improved each season due to her work ethic and consistency.
“I knew she would be one of the leaders on our team and capable of improving off of the great junior year she put together,” Zins said. “Sam had a great summer of training and has been putting in more miles than she ever has before.”
Zins also spoke highly of Thompson’s character and her status as a leader.
“Sam is not afraid to speak up when the time calls for it, but she also leads by example. I know she is going to be mentally prepared and give her best effort in all the workouts and races.
“That is all I can really ask out of any athlete.”
Thompson was the top overall finisher at the season-opening Seton Hill Griffin Classic, which was also her first career win.
“The key to success for this year has been hard work and training,” said Thompson, who also finished 12th overall at Michigan State University’s Spartan Invitational, 10 seconds behind teammate Rachel Magliane (sophomore, nutrition).
The Crimson Hawks are again ranked first in the Atlantic Region as of the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association poll on Tuesday, an honor the team has now held for three consecutive weeks. The team is also 11th in the USTFCCCA national poll.
Thompson credited Zins for her team’s early success.
“We also have a coach that does an excellent job at individualizing the training so that everybody is working at the level they need to be. I feel that over the past four years, he has done an excellent job.”
While both Zins and Thompson are not looking too much into the polls, they are both eager to show the team is worthy of the high ranking.
“It is exciting that the depth and talent of our team is being recognized, but it is still early,” Thompson said. “We have many strong teams in the region, and there are countless miles to be put in before any celebration can take place.”
“There will probably be some shifts next week as most of the top teams in the region are at major invitationals this weekend,” Zins said. “We still have to prove that we are worthy of that ranking, and that is the mindset we have as a team.”
Both Crimson Hawks squads will be in action this weekend at Lehigh University’s Paul Short Invitational. Most of IUP’s runners have had three weeks of training since their last race on Sept. 21 in the IUP Alumni meet.
For Thompson, she said she hopes to improve last year’s 22nd place finish at Paul Short.