Compared to the hundreds of minutes that members of the Penn cross country team have ran in the past few month, another 30 might seem like nothing. But for two of Penn’s finest runners, the next half hour of racing will possibly be the most important of their careers so far.
This Saturday, freshman Cleo Whiting and sophomore Thomas Awad will travel to Terre Haute, Ind., where they will both compete in the NCAA National Cross Country Championships. Indiana State’s LaVern Gibson Championship Course will play host this weekend to not only the nation’s best cross country teams, but also the fastest individual runners in the country.
Awad and Whiting will be the first runners to represent Penn at nationals since Courtney Jaworski did so in 2005. Whiting is also the first freshman in Penn women’s cross country history to reach the national final.
While Awad may be the first Penn men’s cross country runner to make it to Indiana in several years, he is not unfamiliar with competing on this level.
“I made it to Nationals for outdoor track last spring, so I’ve been on the national stage in college before,” he said. “ It’s a bigger and longer race than the [five kilometer race] I did last year, but I don’t think I’m in over my head.”
Last Friday, both the men’s and women’s cross country teams ran superb races at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship, but only Awad and Whiting had the necessary times to advance to the finals.
While Awad knew almost immediately after crossing the finish line in fifth place overall at Bethlehem that he had earned a ticket to Indiana, Whiting’s bid came slightly later. Whiting placed 23rd overall at the Mid-Atlantic Regionals, and while that wasn’t enough for an automatic bid, she earned an at-large bid once the results from all regional championships had come in.
This weekend, the two will face uphill battles, as they square off against championship caliber teams in Oregon, Stanford and Oklahoma State. Awad however, still isn’t quite sure about his goals for the upcoming final.
“I think a top 40 finish would be great.” he said. “But I’m not really sure if that’s the goal I’m going to be shooting for. Top 40 is right around All-American, but that is something that I am going to have to discuss with coach [Steve] Dolan.”
While Penn fell short of qualifying as a team for the finals this year, bringing the team to Indiana is certainly something that the Quakers are looking for going forward.
“This year was really good for us, and I think we really stuck our noses out there and showed some people that we can compete at this level,“ Awad said. “I want everyone to know that Penn is going to be a force to be reckoned with in years to come.”
With strong races this weekend, Whiting and Awad could do just that. This pair of underclassmen represent the present and future of Penn cross country and a good showing against the nation’s best would be a great step in the right direction.
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