The men’s cross country team has youth on its side this weekend.
The Quakers head to Lafayette on Saturday for the Leopard Invitational, the last meet before the Ivy Championships at the end of October.
The team is led by a trio of freshmen — Brendan Smith, Brandon Clark and Thomas Awad — who are beginning to make waves on the college circuit. In their last race at the Paul Short Invitational in Bethlehem, Pa., all three placed in the top 10 with Smith leading the pack and bringing home the meet for the Red and Blue.
Coach Steve Dolan, newly appointed this year from Princeton and fresh from coaching Princeton athlete Donn Cabral at the London Olympics, is looking for big things from the freshmen.
“We are making really good progress this season, and it is fun to think about potential in the years to come,” Dolan said. “I like how these young guys are competing and how they’re training.”
Normally, there would be some rookie nerves going around. But Clark, who came in fifth at Paul Short, seems to revel in it.
“It feels good in this team. I don’t like leading alone, I like having Brendan and Tommy with me,” Clark said. “We have a lead pack but we are all running together as well. When it comes to the races, it is six or seven guys running together. It’s a team effort. It’s exciting. We’ve all been used to being at the front of our team so it’s not really uncomfortable for us.”
Dolan also made it clear that this is a team undertaking.
“These guys are complementing some strong upperclassmen,” he said. “With cross country it is funny because it is an individual sport but it’s also a team sport, and we just like to get five guys in as soon as we can in any order.”
The women’s team also heads to Lafayette on Saturday.
Penn is looking to build on solid results from the first meets of the season. The Red and Blue placed second and 16th in their last two outings.Last year, the team was plagued by injury and struggled to find consistency. However, as junior Kersie Jhabvala reveals, there is a different feeling this time around.
“All of us are so much more close knit this year,” she said. “Last year a lot of people were hurt, so it was really hard. It’s a completely different atmosphere.”
One of the reasons for this is an improved coaching staff and training regime. Jhabvala said “having coach Dolan this year, it’s just light years better.”
With star runner and senior captain Leslie Kovach working her way back from injury, and with a good blend of youth and experience, the Quakers are confident.
“Heading into the conference season,” Jhabvala said, “I think we are going to surprise some people.”