It can be argued that the question of legitimacy has dogged Penn men’s and women’s cross country for many years. Neither team has ever had a cross country coach separate from track and field to call its own, and both have consistently struggled to become national contenders while the rest of the Ivy League has gone on to enjoy success on the bigger stage.
This frustrating history is not lost on new men’s and women’s cross country coach Blake Boldon.
“In the last 15 years in women’s cross country, 25 times an Ivy league team has finished in top 30 in the country,” Boldon said. “Six out of the eight Ivies have gone on to national championships at least twice. The two schools who haven’t are Penn and Harvard. Our goal is to join the rest of the league in the national meet as soon as possible.”
The question of legitimacy, though, may have already been answered this summer by Athletic Director Steve Bilsky when he announced Boldon as the first-ever overarching head coach of both men’s and women’s cross country at Penn.
“The sense that we had is that even though cross country runners regularly turn out to be long-distance runners on the track team, sometimes they can get assimilated into the track team and become almost like, not a priority,” Bilsky said. “So we thought this would allow cross country to become a priority.”
Despite Boldon’s daunting task of taking over a position entirely from scratch, he finds himself in the rare yet advantageous situation of working daily with his predecessors: Gwen Harris and Charlie Powell, the respective women’s and men’s track and field coaches. Harris and Powell both oversaw cross country in their responsibilities in previous years.
“[Having Harris and Powell around] is an asset because I can rely on [them] on a daily basis,” Boldon said. “I can ask them questions like, ‘What did the course look like?’ ‘How did we run this meet last year?,’ and ‘What do you expect to see at the next meet?’”
Boldon’s first challenge rests in improving his teams after opening with a disappointing showing over the weekend at the Fordham Fiasco. The women and men placed third and fourth, respectively, after both finished first in last year’s invitational.
“We now know a lot more about where we’re at,” Boldon said. “I think it’s obvious to everyone how much work we have ahead of us. The team we raced at Fordham that we’d really like to beat is Yale, and they beat us pretty solidly, so now every day in practice, we have a direction and want to close the gap so that come Oct. 29, Yale is not a team that’s beating us.”
But for now, the man expected to come up with the answers to Penn cross country’s long-unanswered question of legitimacy still has a few questions of his own.
Who sets the teams’ schedules? Who logs their meet times? That’s Boldon’s job for now, but he doesn’t need to look far for guidance, with Harris and Powell down the hall.
“It’s just a matter of communicating with each of them.”