“You don’t bet against Awad in the last hundred," Penn director of track and field Steve Dolan said minutes after Penn won its first relay at Penn Relays since 1974.
Today, you don’t.
Keaton Naff, Chris Hatler, Nick Tuck and Thomas Awad nabbed first in the college men’s 4xMile with a time of 16:26.30, the fastest a Penn team has ever won in a winning effort in the relay.
To find the last time the Red and Blue won this particular event requires an even deeper look back into the records — the Quakers most recently took the 4xMile title in 1950 with a time of 17:22.
Naff, Hatler and Tuck put senior anchor Awad into good position to finish the race near the top of the pack.
But with 200 meters to the finish, there was no guarantee Awad would finish number one.
“I was just trying to keep him close,” Awad said. “So if I gave it my all I’d be able to get by him and I guess I was just lucky enough to get by them with 60 meters to go.”
“Just keeping my eyes open and thinking it’s possible,” he added.
“He’s such a good fighter at the end,” Dolan said. “If he could be on those guys coming around the last curve I wouldn’t bet against anybody else.”
While that was the coach’s diplomatic answer, Keaton chimed in with what happened on the field.
“With 150 to go, [Dolan] came up and grabbed my shoulder and shouted something incoherent in my ear, something along the lines of ‘he’s gonna do it’ and he knew Tommy was going to.”
And he did.
Awad finished the race with 4:00.3 split.
The victory comes off a tough loss yesterday in the distance medley relay, finishing in third place, just four seconds behind Penn State in first and Georgetown in second as the Red and Blue broke a 44-year-old program record with a time of 9:37.25.
“Georgetown beat us in the DMR and those were the same two anchors today,” Dolan said. “Very savvy of [Tommy] to pull that off.”
The race began with nearly all the schools together in a pack. The Quakers’ lead off, senior Keaton Naff finished his leg in fourth with a split of 4:08.0.
Hatler, a junior, took the second leg, finishing top of the pack with split 4:06.7. He set up for Tuck to keep himself in it in that third stretch.
Fellow junior, Tuck kept the Quakers right in it finishing in 4:11.3 before passing it off to Awad for the finish.
“You don’t have a chance unless you have the three legs in front,” Doland said. “I think these guys really executed every leg so we had that opportunity at the end.”
Despite feeling tired after the first few laps, Awad pulled it off.
“I just knew I wanted to get the win and even though I wasn’t right up on them,” he said. “I knew I just wanted to give it one push and hopefully I could get by him.”
Get by them he did. Coming from fourth around that last corner to first, Awad secured “the dream.”
“To be in the Penn uniform and win at the Penn Relays is about as good as it gets,” Dolan said.
Today, it’s as good as it gets.
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