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Junior Nick Tuck has stood our for Penn men's cross country this season.

Photo: Michele Ozer

Penn cross country has worked all season in pursuit of a dream to be amongst the region's top teams. And, with every passing week, they seem to be getting closer and closer to transforming that fantasy into reality.

On Saturday the Quakers traveled to Princeton’s campus, where Penn’s Ancient Eight rival hosted its annual invitational.

In dominant fashion, the Red and Blue swept the field, as both the men and women claimed first place in their races. In the process, both squads defeated several opponents ranked within the Mid-Atlantic Region, including No. 12 Villanova on the men’s side.

“Team,” as coach Steve Dolan mentioned, was the operative word on Saturday. Along with the oft-mentioned stars, the runners that round out the bottom of the group played crucial roles.

“I thought the biggest difference for our success was that we had six guys come within 25 seconds or less [of each other],” Dolan said of the men’s team. “So that really was the key. It was the team aspect.”

For the women’s side, coming off a strong performance at Notre Dame earlier in the season, its top runners, as usual, paced the team. Juniors Ashley Montgomery and twin sisters Cleo and Clarissa Whiting were all featured in the top 10, with Montgomery clocking a particularly impressive 21:02.6 on the 6K course.

In the end, however, the Red and Blue needed the help of some unsung heroes to consolidate their triumph.

“[The team] had another very good race. Regardless of the meet, it’s always fun to come out with a win,” commented Dolan. “Not only did Ashley and the twins have great races — Isabelle Griffith, who’s probably been the athlete of the week in two consecutive meets, has been a great fourth runner.”

The men’s side, after an average showing at the Notre Dame Invitational, improved dramatically at Princeton’s 8K course. Junior Nick Tuck finished fifth, while senior captain Thomas Awad, showing no signs of rust in only his second meet of the year, placed seventh. Brendan Shearn, Patrick Hally and Clark Shurtleff all crossed the line shortly thereafter, guaranteeing a Red and Blue victory.

The teams’ performances also confirmed that this season will go down as one of the most productive in recent memory. With its win on Saturday, Penn men’s cross country shot up to No. 2 in the Mid-Atlantic Region, trailing only Georgetown. The distinction represents the highest ranking the Quakers have ever achieved and, with the women earning an impressive No. 5 spot of their own, Penn cross country will enter next week’s Ivy Heptagonal Championships brimming with confidence.

“Like anything in life, it’s nice to have momentum,” Dolan said. “Having increased our Mid-Atlantic Region ranking is definitely good for [the team’s] confidence going into Heps next week, and then in four weeks we’ll run at the Mid-Atlantic Championships. And that’s the step before Nationals.“

Of course, it’s still a while out, but success at Nationals is the dream that the Quakers are ultimately chasing.

So far, the Red and Blue have shown no signs of tired legs, and they will try to keep this dream of a season alive in the weeks to come.

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