If the Heptagonal Championships showed two Penn cross country squads on opposite ends of the Ivy spectrum, this weekend represented a return to equality within the program.
On Nov. 14, both the men’s and women’s squads equaled their preseason rankings, with each finishing sixth at Mid-Atlantic Regionals, hosted by Penn State.
The women’s team started the day off for the Quakers, and it had redemption on its mind.
Coming off of a slightly disappointing last place finish at Heps two weekends before, the Red and Blue were looking to notch one final strong performance leading into track season.
And they did just that, earning a very respectable sixth place finish, and, in coach Steve Dolan’s estimation, putting together arguably their strongest team performance of the year.
“I feel confident, as do the women, that we have improved significantly this year,” coach Dolan said. “And we are very excited for track.”
“We were humble at Heps,” Clarissa Whiting said. “We were actually able to do things to diffuse our own individual abilities to run our best race here.”
The dynamic duo of sophomore twins Cleo and Clarissa Whiting led the way, finishing in 19th and 20th place overall, respectively.
It was an especially important result for Cleo, who has been forced to deal with injuries since the offseason but has battled through to re-establish herself as one of Penn’s top runners after earning a trip to cross country Nationals last year.
“Being injured, I lost a couple of months of training,” Cleo said. “So for it all to come together and for me to peak when I needed to was a relief.”
The men’s team came into the day with higher expectations than its female counterpart. In fact, the squad had a stretch goal of parlaying its third place finish at Heps into a third place finish at Regionals and, potentially, a team bid to Nationals.
While the squad fell short on its lofty ambitions, Dolan was still pleased with his athletes’ overall responsibilities.
“Making Nationals would have been one of the ‘dream goals,’” Dolan said. “The stars would have had to align ... Sixth place was a good run for us.”
Once again, junior star Thomas Awad led the way, this time with a third place overall finish, earning his second straight trip to Nationals.
After earning the first individual Heps title for Penn since 1975, Awad was far more conservative coming into Regionals.
“What we both talked about was [to] stay up there and make sure you’re in a position to qualify, but don’t go for the win at all costs,” Dolan explained.
Meanwhile, senior Conner Paez built off of his impressive finish at Heps with a 23rd place finish at Regionals, earning All-Region honors and finishing off his cross country career on an ideal note.
“It’s the best possible way I could have ended my cross country career,” Paez said. “It felt really good to kind of realize my potential.”
Moving forward, both squads will begin to look to build off of their cross country seasons and make further progress in track.
“In the end it was quite a successful season, and we’ll work to build on it,” Dolan said.
Awad will make the trip out to Indiana to compete in Nationals on Nov 22.
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