Rarely do you get so many people on the same page when it comes to athletics, but the Penn cross country teams both seem to be dialed in on the same thing.
When asked what the goal was when it came to the upcoming Main Line Invitational meet, coach Steve Dolan and seniors Conor Nickel and Kersie Jhabvala all responded with the same slogan: “A team first race.”
“On other teams, there is this start alone, end alone mentality,” Jhabvala said. “However something that coach Dolan has really emphasized is finding that next red Penn jersey and sticking with each other.”
This is the philosophy that the Quakers will enter Thursday’s Main Line Invitational with, as both the men’s and women’s programs look to build upon the strong race they ran two weeks ago at Belmont Plateau.
Penn will be competing in the Main Line Invitational for the first time in recent memory. The race, hosted by Haverford College, is slightly shorter than a normal cross country meet: the women and men run 5 and 7 kilometers, respectively.
On the women’s side, Penn will look to freshman Cleo Whiting, who placed third overall in the Big 5 Invitational, and seniors Chelsea Delaney and Jhabvala to lead the pack.
Jhabvala is making her return to running this fall after being sidelined with an injury in the latter part of the spring track season last year.
“I am just really excited to get back to running,” Jhabvala said. “I am really looking forward to the Paul Short Meet in a few weeks, but this race should prove to be a really good way to test myself and get ready for the bigger meets going forward.”
Regardless of the significance of the meet, the game plan remains the same for Penn.
As Jhabvala said, “Coach Dolan has really made us focus on staying together as a pack and working as a unit.” This mentality has been apparent even in the team’s practices. Last week, Dolan had both programs conduct a workout where the runners kept together, not allowing gaps to form between groups.
The men failed at this on the first go-around, so Dolan had them do it again. Clearly this “team-first” mindset is going to become the hallmark of cross country under Dolan, and it remains to be seen if it will correlate to a top finish on Thursday.
On the men’s side of the starting line, Nickel and senior captain Conner Paez will look to help the Red and Blue push the pace, as the men get ready for the 7K race. Nickel finished 10th two weeks ago at the Big 5 meet and hopes to continue his success on Thursday night.
On the Haverford course the men’s team will be augmented by the return of sophomore standout Thomas Awad.
Awad missed the Big 5 meet due to illness but looks to help the Quakers put more runners in the top ten today.
But looming in the way of a Penn victory stands some familiar foes. Both Villanova and La Salle will share the starting line with Penn, just as they did two weeks ago.
In addition, the Quakers will have to contend with a Haverford program that was ranked as the top team in the Centennial Conference coming into the season.
The Haverford course should not prove daunting to the runners, as Dolan brought both of his teams out to the course for a workout last Friday. This type of off-campus practice has been an integral part of the team’s preparation since Dolan took over and looks to be paying dividends on race day.
More than anything else, the programs seem to have found a team identity, which they hope will put them on the fast track to success on race day.
While a top finish at Haverford may or may not be in the cards for the Quakers on Thursday, one thing remains abundantly clear. The men and the women wearing the Red and the Blue are going to start as a team, and they are going to finish as a team.
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