Conner Paez arrived at Penn last fall with the hope that he could work hard and break into Penn’s top seven by the end of the cross-country season.
“Coming in, I honestly had no idea what to expect,” said Paez Solon, an Ohio native. “I wasn’t one of the better recruits for the cross-country team. Right within my first meet I finished fourth on the team. I realized I had more in me than what I was achieving in high school.”
The unexpected early success has driven him to set his sights on even bigger goals. Now, almost a year later, Paez’s season is finally winding down with his last race of the year on Saturday at the USA Junior Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore.
“This is probably the most competitive meet I’ve ever been in,” Paez said. “You can’t get much better than Heyward Field. I used to live in Oregon, and have seen races there. There’s so much history. It’s an honor to run on it.”
Paez has quickly developed into one of the Ivy League’s top young distance runners. In the fall, he finished No. 20 in the Cross Country Heptagonal Championships — right behind Penn seniors Philip Cawkwell, Christopher Baird and Luke Grau — which was the top time for any freshman in the competition.
In the winter, Paez continued his success, finishing fifth all-time for Penn runners in the 3,000 meters. Paez then spent much of the spring running the 5,000 meters where he managed a personal best of 14:21.04 at Penn Relays.
The rising sophomore took a week of easy running after IC4A Championships before moving into light track intervals and speed workouts. The extra rest has Paez feeling better than he ever has before.
“I’m looking to 14:10, which is ten seconds faster than my personal best,” Paez said. “That would put me in the running to win it.”
He won’t be the only Penn athlete at the meet. In fact, it will be an all-rising sophomore affair at Track Town, USA.
In addition to Paez, high jumper Maalik Reynolds, javelin thrower Karl Ingram and hurdler Gabrielle Piper — all from the Class of 2014 — will compete this weekend.
Reynolds will likely be a heavy favorite and looking to bounce back from a disappointing seventh-place finish at the NCAA Championships where he finished .11 meters below his personal best.
“I think I can get at least 2.31,” said Reynolds, whose experience at the Championships and high school New Balance Outdoor Nationals should help. “Being consistent around 7’4” or 7’5” [is where I want to be].”
Ingram, who has been under the radar for most of the season, will compete Thursday afternoon. He has hit 61.96 meters and finished in the top ten at the Outdoor Heptagonal Championships. The versatile Piper, who will run on Friday, is the lone female from Penn to compete at the meet. She will be running in her best event — the 100-meter hurdles.
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