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One of only two seniors on the Penn men’s cross country roster, Conner Paez has been relied on as a leader for the young Quakers squad.

Penn’s cross country runners might be young, but they know their history.

And they know full well how important it is to succeed at Saturday’s Heptagonal Championships at Princeton, an Ivy tradition since 1934.

“This is our championship race. It’s us against the seven other Ivies to see who can kick it out to the end,” senior captain Chelsea Delaney said.

And with only the Ivy League competing, Penn will be keeping its friends close — and its enemies closer.

“What’s so cool is it’s just the eight schools,” coach Steve Dolan said. “We follow each other closely, so it’s really neat.”

Without a doubt, this is one of those weeks that Ivy League cross country runners circle on their calendars before the season starts.

“There’s always a ton of support from everyone coming out. Everyone gets really pumped about it,” senior captain Conner Paez said.

But Heps are more than just tradition and team building.

Heptagonals are a meeting of eight of the country’s premier cross country programs, three of which are nationally ranked. It is the sole determinant of the Ivy League champion. It is an opportunity for a program in transition to continue its development.

Most importantly for Penn, though, it is an opportunity for the Quakers to prove where they fit in amongst the rest of the Ivy League.

“Working out together has helped us move along. If we can keep doing that, we can definitely surprise some people,” Delaney said.

“We should beat Brown, Cornell and Yale,” Paez added.

Despite his athletes’ enthusiasm, Dolan has maintained realistic expectations in the days leading up to the race, emphasizing long-term development over short-term results, a major theme of his tenure as coach so far.

The team understands that finishing atop the Ivy League this year may not be feasible — yet.

“It will be tough for us to break into the top part of the league this year. It’s one step at a time,” Dolan said.

However, there is reason for the Quakers to be optimistic about their chances moving forward. While the Red and Blue are competing against some of the oldest and most storied cross country programs in the nation, their current squads are exceedingly young.

The men’s team features only two seniors, captains Paez and Conor Nickel. The rest of the team has prominently featured young, up-and-coming athletes, including sophomore Thomas Awad and freshman Brendan Shearn, who finished first and second, respectively, for the team at Pre-Nationals two weeks ago.

“It’s really exciting. With them being as talented as they are, you can only imagine the direction the team is going to go in the future,” Paez said.

The women’s team is equally young. All seven Penn women that ran at Pre-Nationals two weeks ago were either sophomores or freshmen, including top finishers Elyssa Gensib and Cleo Whiting.

No matter how Penn does on Saturday, the Quakers know that the future will be bright.

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