It’s not about how you start, but how you finish.
The Penn cross country team is looking to embody this motto as it heads into what will most likely be its final race of the year. Saturday, the Quakers will go head to head with 38 of the fastest Division I teams in the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional Cross Country Championships at Lehigh.
After a strong showing two weeks ago at Heptagonal Championships, the Red and Blue are looking to improve upon their pre-meet rankings of ninth for the men and eighth for the women. Both teams are chasing top six finishes in the region.
Penn will face stiff competition in its region, which features Georgetown, the No. 4 women’s team in the country, as well as the nationally ranked Villanova and Princeton men’s teams.
In order to move up in the rankings, the Penn women must rely on their depth rather than their star power. Two weeks ago at Heptagonal Championships, the top six women all crossed the finish line under 22 minutes.
“If you asked me who our top five runners would be and what order they would finish in, I honestly couldn’t tell you because they are so interchangeable,” coach Steve Dolan said.
Cross country fans should keep an eye out for freshman Cleo Whiting. Throughout the season, Whiting has consistently been a top finisher for the Quakers.
“Hopefully she could be challenging to go in the top 25 if things go well,” Dolan said.
On the men’s side, Penn’s race plan has two foci.
“We want a solid pack in thirty to forty in that area and try to get all of our scores really close and as low as possible and run as a unit,” sophomore Thomas Awad said. “We’re going to use [freshman] Brendan Shearn and [sophomore] Brendan Smith as our measuring sticks and really rally around those two guys because they have been really consistent all year running right near each other.”
Awad has his sights set higher. After taking third place at Heptagonal Championships two weekends ago, he is trying to earn an individual bid for the NCAA National Championships in Terre Haute, Ind. Awad will have to be one of the top four individuals not on one of the top two teams already qualified for nationals in order to punch his ticket to Indiana.
“I want to go out with the lead pack of guys … and hang out in there. At maybe two kilometers and under, then I will start pushing the pace and then try to hang on for the last two to three kilometers, depending on how I’m feeling,” he said. “The race isn’t really the whole thing — it’s when the pace starts picking up. The first seven or six kilometers is pretty much a prequel to the race.”
Similarly, the team is rounding the “six or seven kilometer mark” in the season. Despite the relative youth of the team, “they’re not really like freshman anymore,” Dolan said.
“They have run enough races to know what to do and we’ve established a race strategy and style at this point. They’re well-seasoned at this point so I think they’ll handle the pressure quite well.”
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