Turn back the clock: Awad's first NCAA run

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Junior Thomas Awad got his first shot at NCAA XC Nationals last year, where he finished 177th.

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Star junior cross country runner Thomas Awad has been making his case for top Penn athlete for some time now, but it was only two weekends ago that he broke out on a national stage. In an extremely gutsy performance at NCAA Nationals, Awad persevered through an Achilles injury and finished 27th overall, earning All-American honors.

With the current upward trajectory of Awad’s career, it is easy to get caught up in what he has done lately. However, to say that his recent success has come out of nowhere would be severely nearsighted, as many of his performances from last year formed his foundation.

With this in mind, let’s turn back the clock to around this time last year when the Quakers’ standout runner got his first shot at national recognition in cross country.

After finishing third in Ivy Heptagonals and fifth in NCAA Regionals in only his sophomore year, Awad knew that expectations going into NCAA Nationals were going to be high. But instead of playing down expectations, he sought to represent the rest of his team with a strong performance.

“I think a top 40 finish would be great,” Awad said. “This year was really good for us.

“I want everyone to know that Penn is going to be a force to be reckoned with in years to come.”

He cited his freshman trip to outdoor track Nationals as a key piece of experience that he would attempt to utilize on his Nov. 23 trip to Terra Haute, Ind. in 2013.

“I don’t think I’m in over my head,” Awad said.

And when it came down to race time, he certainly was not in over his head. However, a 177th place finish out of 254 — while respectable — was far from what he had expected.

It would take him another year to truly make a splash at Nationals, but when he did, it was that much sweeter for the Red and Blue’s cornerstone runner.

“I’m relieved to live up to the expectations,” Awad said after earning All-American status this year. “It’s a pretty big step looking forward.”

This year, Awad was Penn’s lone representative at Nationals, but that was not the case a year ago.

After capping a breakout freshman campaign with a 23rd place finish at last year’s Regionals, current sophomore Cleo Whiting also qualified for Nationals. She delivered a comparable result to Awad, finishing 184th out of 254.

Although a battle with injuries prevented Whiting from making another fully healthy run at Nationals, she was able to finish a strong 19th at this year’s Regionals.

Each athlete will look to carry their strong 2014 finish into winter track season, which starts this Saturday at the Lehigh Invitational.


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