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Junior Thomas Awad took home the first individual Heps title for Penn since 1975 on Saturday at Princeton.

Photo: Michele Ozer

All roads lead to Heptagonals for Penn cross country, and fortunately for the Quakers, they are going to be intimately familiar with the road in question.

Running on the same course where they will vie for supremacy in the Ancient Eight in just two short weeks, the men’s and women’s cross country programs put together impressive performances at Saturday’s annual Princeton Invitational.

The younger Quakers kicked off the morning by placing second as a team in the women’s open 6,000-meter event, falling only behind Ivy rival Cornell. The Red and Blue were carried by back-to-back fifth and sixth place finishes from the freshman tandem of Isabel Griffith and Karen Xiang, who posted times of 23:16 and 23:17 respectively.

In the women’s 6,000m Championship, sophomores Clarissa and Cleo Whiting and junior Elyssa Gensib led the Quakers to the second-best team score, as the group crossed the line in the 13th-15th positions. It was Cleo’s first race of the year back from injury.

“I thought we did an excellent job at executing our team’s game plan today,” coach Steve Dolan said of his team’s performance. “On the women’s side especially, out runners stayed together and work off each other, and it lead to some quality results.”

In the 8,000m championship event, the men finished third overall behind Villanova and Virginia Tech, and junior Thomas Awad won the event with a time of 24:00 minutes flat, adding to what has already been an impressive season for the Quakers’ top runner.

“Tom had an excellent race today, and to win on this course I think will go a long way towards boosting his confidence when it comes to racing here again in two weeks,” Dolan said. “I think it was definitely a valuable and positive experience, for everyone to get in some miles on this course.”

The Quakers would wrap up the day of racing in spectacular fashion, as the younger Quakers captured the top team spot in the men’s open 8,000m event, a race that saw six Penn runners place inside the top 25. This included a third-place finish by freshman Chris Luciano, a fourth-place finish by sophomore Chris Hatler and a sixth-place finish by junior Clark Shurtleff.

After placing 15th and 20th in last year’s men’s and women’s championship events at this meet, it is clear that the program has come quite a long way in just the span of a year.

“The one thing I was thinking when I was watching the woman’s race was how much deeper we are as a team in terms of the number of runners we have racing at a high level,” Dolan said. “Part of it is that we’ve worked really hard to be where we are, but part of it is that success is contagious, and we have more and more runners feeding off that [success].”

While Penn will certainly be pleased with its performance today, the results need to be taken with a grain of salt.

“It was a good day for us, but the fact is we are going to have to race better than we did today if we want to be successful in two weeks against the top of the Ivy League,” Dolan said.

“I wouldn’t try to grade us on our performance compared to the other Ivy schools today because we were not racing everyone’s ‘A’ squad. While it’s nice to get in some quality racing, we are absolutely going to have to be better at Heps.”

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