Expections can be both a gift and a curse for a team.
This is one of the key issues at hand for Penn cross country entering the 2014 season.
Both the men’s and women’s squads entered the 2013 season as largely unknown entities — two young squads with little history and a lot to prove.
But times have changed for the Quakers.
Under the tutelage of coach Steve Dolan, both the men’s and women’s programs saw the emergence of several young, talented runners last year.
Chief amongst this new wave of talent for the Red and Blue is junior Thomas Awad. Awad grabbed the attention of running fans nationwide with a world-beating spring track season, highlighted by a 3:58.34 mile at the Penn Relays.
Awad understands that in order for his team to be successful, he will need to lead them on the course.
“Personally, I’m at the point in my career where my goal is to win every race I compete in,” he said.
The women’s team also found a standout star in sophomore Cleo Whiting. In her freshman campaign, she established herself as the top runner on the team and qualified for the national championship meet.
Several secondary young runners also emerged last year, including sophomores Brendan Shearn and Nicholas Tuck for the men and junior Elyssa Gensib for the women.
With so much young talent returning to each squad, expectations will inevitably be higher this year. A repeat of last year’s sixth-place performance at the Heptagonal championships will certainly not carry with it the sense of optimism that it brought last year for both teams.
This holds especially true for the men’s side, which showed considerable improvement and ended up finishing fourth last spring at the outdoor track Heptagonal championships.
“Ultimately, we want to win a Heps title and make it to NCAA s,” Awad said. “We honestly think that’s a very realistic goal this year.”
The women’s team is still too young to contend for an Ivy title, and it has set its goals accordingly.
“We just want to improve on last year, which was an improvement on the year before,” junior Amy Darlington said.
Nonetheless, Dolan is optimistic about the group’s future as it continues to gain some much needed depth and experience.
“We have about 10 women’s middle-distance runners coming in. It’s a very large and talented freshman class,” he said.
As always though, Dolan is more concerned with his team’s long-term progression than short-term expectations.
“We haven’t really talked about [expectations],” he said. “We’re just going to focus on maximizing our potential. In terms of expectations, we’ll just let the cards fall where they may.”
Both squads lost crucial senior leadership, and will rely on a pair of junior captains — Awad and Darlington for the men’s and women’s squads, respectively — to take major leadership roles this season.
“I just want to be the best leader that I can be, and hopefully one of our top runners as well,” Darlington said.
So where does that leave Penn cross country? Not favorites, but not exactly underdogs.
It looks like the only thing to expect of the team is that by the end of the season, it will figure it out.