When Steve Dolan was named Penn’s director of cross country and track & field in 2012, he immediately set out to turn around a program that had settled to the bottom of the Ivy League. His team’s performance this weekend is just another piece of evidence that he is doing just that.

The men and women of Penn cross country both finished in sixth place at Saturday’s Heptagonal Championships — the Ivy League’s de facto championship meet — in Princeton.

The Heptagonal Championships — Heps, for short — are part of a long Ivy League athletics tradition, and it always seems that the cross country team has a little extra energy the week that they roll around.

“A lot of people from the track team and alumni come out to support us,” women’s senior captain Chelsea Delaney said. “It’s great.”

The men’s team was led by sophomore Thomas Awad, who posted an impressive time of 23:45 in the men’s 8-kilometer race. He steadily moved up the top 10 in the race en route to an overall third place individual finish.

“I don’t think that I ran my best race, but I’m happy with the result,” Awad said.

“He seems to rise up when it really matters,” Dolan added.

The men’s squad’s top five was rounded out by sophomore Brendan Smith, freshman Brendan Shearn and senior captains Conner Paez and Conor Nickel. The rest of the men’s team couldn’t keep contact with Awad though, as Smith, the team’s second finisher, crossed the finish line a full 30 places and 50 seconds behind him.

Regardless, Dolan was pleased with their gutsy performance given the quality of their competition.

“The league is really strong. I mean, three of the teams are nationally ranked,” Dolan said. “I was really proud of how the guys ran.”

In the end, the men out-ran both Cornell and Brown, an improvement over last year’s seventh place finish.

Freshmen twins Cleo and Clarissa Whiting, who finished 28th and 30th, respectively, in the women’s 6K race, led the women’s team.

Sophomores Gabby Cuccia and Elyssa Gensib and freshman Madison Holleran followed close behind the twins, rounding out a women’s top five composed entirely of underclassmen.

“That’s a bit of a story, when you think about only freshman and sophomore scorers,” Dolan said.

The women may not have had a front-runner like the men did, but they made up for it with an impressive display of team running. In fact, the top four women’s finishers all finished within five places and eight seconds of each other.

“They really executed, to a tee, the plan we had talked about,” Dolan said.

Ultimately, the women edged out Yale and Brown to secure their sixth place team finish, a solid result given the team’s extreme youth and inexperience.

Neither the men’s nor the women’s team ran a perfect race, as indicated by their team finishes. However, considering their youth, they at least matched and arguably exceeded expectations going into the meet.

“I think we actually ran the best race of the season,” Dolan said.

Dolan may not have his teams at the top of the Ivy League yet, but it appears that he very well may have them on their way.

SEE ALSO

Penn cross country’s youth looking to shine through at ‘Heps’

Penn cross country splits up for two meets

Penn cross country catches late bus, still keeps pace at Main Line

Red and Blue cross country ready to face Big 5 foes

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