Though his season ended early with an injury at NCAA regionals, rising junior distance runner Thomas Awad was one of many athletes who took significant strides forward under the guidance of head coach Steve Dolan.

Credit: Analyn Delos Santos

Any distance running coach worth his salt will preach for his runners never to look back when they are in the middle of a race. It is almost always counterproductive, as it distracts a runner from the ultimate goal: reaching the finish line.

To use an oft-employed cliche , this year’s indoor and outdoor track seasons have been a marathon (and not a sprint) for the Quakers. It may be corny, but it is true.

Since head coach Steve Dolan took control of the then-floundering program a few years ago, he has always prioritized the importance of the journey over the destination.

This philosophy has been enthusiastically adopted throughout the year by his young core of athletes, the vast majority of whom have put their heads down and focused on individual improvement rather than specific results.

Not once did they seem to stop and look behind them, instead keeping their sights set straight ahead, into the future.

However, the year is now over. They have crossed the proverbial finish line. And, well, it’s about time to finally look back and evaluate the year that was for Penn track and field.

It would be a stretch to say that expectations were high for the program going into the year, but things were certainly looking up.

The program had struggled through the previous few years, finding themselves beginning to settle in as perennial Ivy League bottom feeders.

But the program was armed with a new look – fronted by a wave of young talent – and a corresponding wave of optimism.

However, these positive feelings did not immediately manifest themselves in terms of positive results on the track.

Despite a long winter of continuous improvement, neither the men’s nor the women’s teams were able to crack the top six at the indoor Heptagonal Championships.

But the seeds had been planted.

On the women’s side, underclassmen like rising sophomore runners Ashley Montgomery and Cleo Whiting began to gain confidence, following in the footsteps of solid senior leadership.

On the men’s side, some clear stars began to emerge throughout the indoor season, including rising junior runner Thomas Awad and 2014 Penn graduate high-jumper Maalik Reynolds.

And in the spring, those seeds began to sprout and bloom.

Throughout the outdoor season, the men’s and women’s cores of young athletes continued to improve while their seniors finished their careers strong.

The standout on the track for the Quakers was Thomas Awad, who put together a run of six straight victories at six different distances.

Meanwhile, the most consistent production came from the team’s most unlikely group: the throwers.

Rising juniors Sam Mattis and Kelsey Hay and 2014 Penn graduate Jake Brenza led a rejuvenated throwing group that took the Ivy League by storm.

As the outdoor season went on, both the men’s and women’s squad began to finally rack up solid team results, eventually gaining significant regional rankings.

The season — which was filled with individual and team improvement throughout — culminated with an exciting month-long stretch.

In the final outdoor month, the program notched several individual Penn Relays titles, the men’s team cracked the top half of the Ivy League at Heps and the program sent three athletes to NCAA Finals.

The year certainly ended on a positive note for the program, but this is not to say that there are no areas of concern for the Quakers moving forward.

Key senior leaders like Reynolds, Brenza and Gabrielle Piper will be moving on, and the women’s side has still not managed to crack the Ivy League top six.

With this said, after a year of constant improvement and strong performance from underclassmen, there is more than enough reason to believe that the Quakers will take yet another step forward next year.

Having crossed the finish line, Dolan and his team have surely taken a deep breath and a quick look back. But you can rest assured that they have begun to line up at the next starting line. After all, for the program, the long-term race has just begun.

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