It’s not uncommon for graduating seniors to leave holes in a team’s roster — but this particular one is about the size of the Grand Canyon.
With the departure of all-world runner Tom Awad, Penn men’s track and field will look to adjust to life without the two-time defending Ivy League champion. To do that, they’ll have to look to their experienced stars and a work-in-progress freshman class.
“When we get into the races we’re going to need our best runners to improve and fill those gaps, and we’ll need new runners to step into starting positions,” coach Steve Dolan said. “But from a leadership standpoint, Tom and his teammates were part of building something that will sustain.”
Much of that responsibility will fall on senior Nick Tuck, the squad’s most accomplished returning member. Particularly dominant in the steeplechase during the spring track season —he won the Ivy title in the event a year ago — Tuck also impressed in cross country last fall, placing 73rd in the nation at NCAAs.
Dolan also mentioned the team’s two senior captains — Chris Hatler and Brendan Shearn — as runners poised to cut their already-impressive times.
The team’s veterans will also likely benefit from a spring season that focused on more distance events — competitions that are comparable to the fall XC season.
“This is the first time in a few years that we’ll have a significant group of upperclassmen that were accomplished runners coming into the season,” Dolan added. “I’m really excited to see what they can do.”
The Quakers will also benefit from an impressive incoming freshman class. It features one set of twins — Colin and William Daly of Oradell, N.J. — and one new runner, Andrew Halley, who will be joining his older sibling Patrick, a sophomore, on the team.
The three other freshmen joining the squad will be Isaiah Gaines of Findley, Ohio; Aaron Groff of Cherry Hill, NJ., and Mitchell Poynter of Tipp City, Ohio.
“It’s been pretty hectic, doing all this for the first time,” Poynter said of his first weeks at Penn. “But it’s great to have the team. I couldn’t think of a better way to start your time in college.”
Dolan, however, is quick to downplay expectations for the team’s newcomers, pointing out that it’s more common for freshmen to hit their stride in the spring season, when they have a semester of college-level distance experience under their belts.
“To be honest with you, it’s a big jump for freshmen on the men’s side, because in high school they run 5,000 meters and in college it’s up to 8,000 and even 10,000,” the fifth-year coach said. “So fall is a big adjustment for freshmen in cross country. I think you’re going to see better times from the freshmen when we get to the track season, when they’ll have adapted. … But I do like our class a lot.”
So while the team’s newest members may have to wait a season for eye-popping times on the track, they’ll have to settle for getting adjusted to the campus they’ll call home for the next four years.
“I can’t stress enough how welcoming everyone’s been. They’ve been open to talk about anything,” Poynter said. “If anyone’s had any questions, the seniors are able to answer them for you.
“Having them there to lean on has been really helpful.”
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