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Junior Ashley Montgomery has broken out as the top runner on Penn women's cross country this year.

For the past three years, Penn cross country has shown consistent signs of improvement but has been unable, as of yet, to put it all together. This year, though, the Quakers are coming temptingly close to doing just that.

This past weekend at the Notre Dame Invitational, both the men’s and women’s squads put up respectable finishes against some of the top-ranked teams in the nation.

The women impressed in particular, finishing 10th in a 21-team field only one year after finishing third-to-last at the same meet. The team was led by junior Ashley Montgomery, who barely missed out on a top-10 finish in a fast field with an impressive 5K time of 16:50.

After showing promise but failing to break out of her role as a supporting performer through her first two collegiate cross country seasons, Montgomery’s rise to the top of the Red and Blue program has been meteoric. Following a strong middle-distance track season last spring, she has established herself as the Quakers’ clear top runner in the early goings of the cross country season.

“She’s got a really good competitive spirit to be able to push herself,” coach Steve Dolan said. “She just came back really fit from three great months of summer running.”

Sisters Cleo and Clarissa Whiting followed behind Montgomery, and their early season consistency has surprised nobody. However, the Quakers did have another breakout performer in sophomore Isabel Griffith, who put together the best race of her young collegiate career to finish fourth on the team.

All in all, the women’s team is showing all the signs of a team that has left its last-place Ivy finish from 2014 far in the past.

Meanwhile, its counterpart on the men’s side did not turn quite as many heads with its performance. However, with a solid 11th-place finish out of field of 20 that featured five teams in the nation’s top-30, the men’s team put its best foot forward.

And perhaps none of the Quakers did so more literally than junior Nick Tuck, who not only finished second on the team in 25th place overall, but largely did it while wearing only one shoe.

“He actually lost [it] early in the race,” Dolan said. “So it was a pretty courageous effort, and lucky that it was good footing on a golf course, but to get 25th in that field was pretty impressive.”

The meet also featured star senior Thomas Awad in his return to competitive action. Finishing 17th overall with a five-mile time of 24:08, Awad may not have been in the dominant form many have grown accustomed to seeing him, but according to Dolan, Awad’s progress will simply be a case of shaking off the rust.

“Most people ... had already raced once or twice,” he said. “The reason he’s starting a little late is because he’ll run his best at the end of the season, and there’s a big track season to come.”

Despite the strong results for the Red and Blue overall this weekend, there is still plenty of room to improve as the program settles into its crucial stretch of midseason training, particularly on the men’s side.

“If we wanna contend for an Ivy League title [on the men’s side], it’s gonna take a stronger fifth runner,” Dolan said. “But that’s what the next month is about.”

The Quakers will return to action in two weeks when they make the trip to New Jersey for the Princeton Invitational.

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