“It could be the biggest event we’ve ever hosted,” Slippery Rock cross country and track coach John Papa said about the Division II fall festival headed to Slippery Rock.
The festival will start in 2018 with both the men’s and women’s cross country regional and national championships. The cross country championships will be hosted at Slippery Rock’s home course, Cooper’s Lake Campground.
Papa said that the championships being hosted at home will be “a motivating factor” for his student-athletes, and he also said why he thinks Cooper’s lake is the perfect place for a national championship.
“It’s a challenging course, no doubt about it,” Papa said. “The event will be on Dec. 1–it’s going to be cold, it might be muddy, it might be snowy. It’s not only going to be running but dealing with those elements. It’s going to take a tough, northeastern kind of guy. We’re going to have teams coming from the west and south who don’t see that kind of weather. It’s going to be neat.”
In addition to the cross country national championships, Slippery Rock will be the host of six other national championships. Four of those will be in 2018: men’s soccer, women’s soccer, field hockey and women’s volleyball. Slippery Rock will also host the soccer national championships again in 2019, and the cross country regionals again in 2020.
“I think it shows the nation that Slippery Rock is a viable athletic program,” Slippery Rock Athletic Director Paul Lueken said. “We’re the real deal, I think it sets us apart and sets us with those folks who have stepped up to do these things.”
While Slippery Rock is the host for all of these events, all sports except cross country will take place in Pittsburgh.
““It started with SportsPITTSBURGH, they wanted to host Division II championships. We’re the closest DII school to Pittsburgh, so it made sense for us to get involved,” Leuken said. “It was a slower process because they had to move a ton of stuff out of North Carolina because of their little deal.”
This is not the first time that Slippery Rock has hosted national championships, but both Lueken and Papa agreed that they may be the biggest events that SRU has ever hosted.
“It seems like very time we host something like that, it grows,” Lueken said about the previous national events at Slippery Rock. “We’ve certainly never hosted anything as big as the fall sports festival.”
Papa echoed that sentiment, “The championships are going to receive a lot more attention than it has in the past with social media and being part of the festival.”
Lueken also mentioned social media, noting that his Twitter and Facebook have been “going crazy” since the announcement.
With such high-profile events coming SRU’s way, it means a lot of extra work to make sure the events goes smoothly. Neither Lueken nor Papa were shy about how much preparation must go into these events.
“It’s definitely a team effort,” Papa said. “It’s a willingness to host the big events, it’s a challenge, it’s a lot of uncertainty that goes with it. It’s time-consuming and it’s extra effort: that’s what we do. We’re pleased to get the event again.”
Lueken also talked about the number of moving parts that an event of this caliber will take.
“We couldn’t do it without our staff,” Lueken said. “Obviously were going to need a lot of help from the folks in Pittsburgh, and they’re going to provide a lot of help.”
Lueken also stated how Slippery Rock will be featured in more ways than just hosting the events.
“It will be really neat when we go to the convention, because they always show a highlight video of the most recent sports festival,” Lueken said. “So at the January 2019 convention, we will be that highlight video.”
Publicity and name-recognition are always nice, but Lueken said that he is simply the most excited to have more first-time visitors to Slippery Rock.
“There will be some people that will say ‘we’ve got to go see this place. We’ve always heard about Slippery Rock so we got to go see it,’ and that’s what I’m hoping for,” Lueken said. “To me, that’s what it’s all about.”
Papa was also excited for first-time visitors to The Rock.
“We’re going to do our best to make everybody feel welcome, and were going to do everything to give them the best championship possible,” said Papa. “Whether is snowing or 60 degrees, were going to give our best effort. We’re going to get it done.
The NCAA Division II Fall Festival will start on Nov. 17, 2018 at Cooper’s Lake Campground with both the men’s and women’s cross country Atlantic regional championships.