Coach Steve Dolan is gearing up to kick the sophomore slump altogether.
After getting to know the Quakers running squad in 2012 and setting up a stacked schedule for 2013, the next step isn’t putting too much stock in numbers.
“It’s tough to set a quantifiable goal but I just want to know that in the invitationals during the season … it’s clear that we’re running at a higher level than last year,” he said.
At the end of the 2012 cross country season, the Quakers’ future proved bright with several stellar performances by the team’s youth.
During the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships at State College, Pa., on Nov. 9, the men’s team finished in 10th place while the women finished eighth – three places ahead of their 2011 season finishes for both teams.
Then-freshman Thomas Awad finished his season at the top of the Red and Blue roster with a 10-kilometer time of 31:19 in 34th place. Also finishing at 34th place on the women’s side was current sophomore Hannah Grossman, with a 6K time of 21:43 – a first-place finish among the Quakers.
“I think it is true that the competitive nucleus for our team is somewhat in the younger classes,” Dolan said.
Not only are last year’s freshmen a promising class, but the incoming class of 2017 has already shown its fair share of promise as well.
“We have a good-sized class of freshmen coming in,” Dolan said. “They seem like they might do a nice job as the distances get longer … you can imagine running twice the distance you ran in high school is a tough adjustment for an 18-year-old, but I think these guys will do well in their careers at Penn.”
Coupled with his strong sophomore group, Dolan’s incoming freshman class is a recipe for success for the future.
“As we continue to recruit well, I think we might competitively look very good in the next few years as things keep coming along,” Dolan said.
But the talent isn’t limited to the underclassmen.
“We do have some really significant juniors and seniors that do provide the leadership with their experience and so forth,” he said.
Senior and captain Conner Paez is returning to the cross country program for Penn after endured an Aug. 2011 motorcycle accident in which he suffered eight broken bones in his left leg and foot. Paez returned to race action on Apr. 6 in Penn’s biennial matchup with Oxford and Cambridge.
“[Paez] is our senior team-elected captain,” Dolan said. “To see him back running, he’s kind of an inspirational leader for the whole team.”
Now that Dolan and the distance runners have gotten to know each other, they’re both looking forward to making strides this season.
“[For the athletes,] the familiarity with my expectations and how we’re going to train is certainly a lot easier and more settling,” he said. “For myself too, I know a lot more about the students – what their backgrounds are, what they’re running, what their personalities are – so we’ll really have a lot more fun this year.”
The Red and Blue kick off their 2013 slate in their backyard at Belmont Plateau in Philadelphia with the Big 5 Meet next Friday. From there, they’ll tackle a few invitationals before heading to Pre-Nationals in October and championships month in November.
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