Penn cross country gets off on right foot at Friends Big 5 Invitational
Quakers enjoy top-three finish on the women's side
September 13, 2013, 9:46 pm·
Penn cross country coach Steve Dolan told The DP earlier this week that the Friends Big 5 Invitational is a way for his programs – both the women and men – to ease into their seasons.
But Penn did more than just go through the motions in Friday evening’s race on the Belmont Plateau. With a top-three finish on the women’s side and a solid showing by the men, the Quakers certainly got off on the correct foot.
Both the men’s and woman’s teams competed in Friday’s Big 5 Meet, squaring off against Philadelphia rivals Villanova, St. Joseph’s, Temple and La Salle. The meet, in its second year, was hosted by Temple at 5:30 on the Belmont Plateau course. Both teams were intimately familiar with this venue, having done workouts on the course in the week leading up to the race. Needless to say, both sides were more than ready to get on the starting line.
On the men’s side, senior Conor Nickel led the way for Penn, finishing among the top runners. As this race was only 6000 meters long, which is short by cross country standards, the runners knew they had to enter the race with a different gameplan.
“The goal was to have a group of at least five guys stay together for the first four laps,” Nickel said. “We weren’t so concerned with the other teams, and we were just looking to stay at a high pace.”
The pace was indeed high. The men ran an average 3:20 split for the first few 1000 meter laps, and then the pace picked up in the final laps. Junior John Trueman helped set the pace for the Quakers in the opening laps and led the Penn team at the 2000 meter mark.
In the women’s competition, the Quakers were lead by freshman Cleo Whiting who finished third overall. In one of her first competitive meets at the collegiate level, the freshman covered the 4000 meter course in under 15 minutes, giving her a podium spot in a 63-runner field.
“I was really surprised how calm I was at the starting line,” Whiting said. “I just started running and eventually I realized how far ahead I was.”
Much like their male counterparts, the women entered the race looking to stay connected for the first half of the meet. Although from the outset it was clear that some members of the team wanted to push the pace higher, the girls kept it together in the first 2000 meters.
“Our upperclassmen were told to lead the group and to keep our team’s goal in mind,” Whiting said.
But after completing the second circuit, the group began to splinter and that is when Whiting took off.
While this meet marks one of the first steps in the cross country season for both programs, both teams are ready for the next challenge.
“I’m excited to race in a longer meet,” Whiting said. “I have never really run a 4K and I want to test myself on the longer courses”.
The Quakers will hope to build upon their success when they compete in the Main Line Invitational on Sept. 26. In that race, Penn will square off against many of the same opponents and hope to stay focused on running what Nickel calls “a team-oriented race.”