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Penn freshmen Meghan Curran, Susie Cook and Kerry Saladino were among the Quakers' top five. Before Saturday, Penn freshman distance runner Susie Cook, a soccer player throughout high school, had never run a cross-country race. But on Saturday Cook took her place as one the 131 runners on the starting line. She finished 18th overall with a time of 19:42 and third among Penn runners. The Hattenfield, N.J., native's performance was indicative of the Penn cross-country's overall showing -- surprising, if not shocking. Penn finished fourth in an 11 team field with 109 points behind national powerhouse Villanova (58 points) and Ivy League rivals Princeton (73) and Columbia (92). The finish order was nothing unusual, since Penn assistant coach Tony Tenisci expected to place third, and the Quakers were just one spot worse. How the Quakers tallied their points, however, was completely unexpected. Captain Rita Garber was the only experienced Penn entrant to finish in the top 50. Among the other four Quakers' scorers, Meghan Curran (17th place), Cook (18th) and Kerry Saladino (48th) are freshman, while sophomore Meredith Rossner (25th) sat out most of her rookie season injured. "It was the first time I had run cross-country," Cook said. "I was really looking forward to 3.1 [miles] on grass and hills because I'm used to running on a track. I ran 5-K races before so I took the approach that I might as well try it." With experienced runners striving to peak late in the season, however, a strong start doesn't guarantee late-season success. "One meet isn't indicative of what all our upperclassmen can do," Garber said. "The freshman did really well. They were where they should be. But things are fickle. A day is just a day." One factor that may have contributed to the outcomes was Penn's limited practice schedule. Time conflicts prevented the Quakers from practicing speed and climbing drills in practice. Tenisci considered this a major factor since Metzgar Fields, the site of Saturday's meet, was an especially hilly course. "No one had the opportunity to really focus in before the meet," Tenisici said. "With the freshman commitments, they've been going to this meet and that. When you're in the first week of school, nobody sleeps. Everybody yacks away. You party all hours. If you wanted to sleep, you couldn't sleep. There is so much going on." Even after arriving at the Fields, focus was difficult. Villanova, which Tenisci coins as the team of the decade, was lined up at the same starting line -- even though they ran the course at a different speed. Heralded Wildcats senior Kristen Nicolini, freshman Sarah Vance Goodman and junior Carmen Douma finished one-two-three with times of 17:57, 18:02 and 18:18, respectively. "When I was young, Villanova runners were my idols," Cook said. "You think it's really neat running on the collegiate level with them. But I couldn't be too much in awe because I was running against them." Behind Villanova's trio, Columbia's Kara Kerr ran neck-to-neck with Garber, beating her by one second, with a time of 18:39. "Strategically, I raced pretty well," Garber said. "I wish I had gotten that Columbia girl, but other than that I was pleased." Although Penn missed a top three finish, the Quakers finished decisively ahead of the other seven teams. Moravian placed fifth with 152 points, 43 points behind Penn -- the biggest gap between overall places. "Considering it was our first meet, I think we had a good showing," Garber said. "It was a good starting point but we have a lot to be improved." With move-in and orientations now complete, Tenisci plans to add team and speed drills to the daily practice routine. He hopes to bridge to gap between the Penn's fourth-place finish on Saturday and the type of performance level Garber believes the team is capable of giving.

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