The schedule may insist that the Penn men's cross country team will run its first race on Saturday in the Fordham Invitational. The Quakers will tell you otherwise. "We're not planning on racing," sophomore Anthony Sager said. "We're planning on running as a group and taking it more as a training exercise than a race." But this is nothing new for coach Charlie Powell's harriers. The Quakers typically tread with caution in early-season meets. And just because Penn lost NCAA-qualifiers Scott Clayton and Sean MacMillan to graduation, Powell isn't going to crumple up last year's training regiment and toss it into the wastebasket. The Quakers may have to regroup from the loss of their top two runners, but they chastise the uttering of that word that no athlete ever wants to hear: Rebuilding. "Are we rebuilding? Definitely not," senior Bryan Kovalsky said. "Outsiders might think it's a rebuilding season for us, but we have a lot of depth this year," junior Anthony Ragucci echoed. Penn returns basically everyone else from a team that finished third at Heps a year ago, including a potentially Clayton-and-MacMillan-esque duo: Kovalsky and junior Matt Gioffre. Gioffre, the No. 3 runner on the team through most of last year, finished 12th at Heps. Kovalsky, meanwhile, was the third Penn runner to cross the finish line in districts. "[Gioffre and Kovalsky] definitely looked the best [on the team] coming out of running camp," senior Andrew Kish said. But the Quakers might find strength in their depth this year -- the three, four and five runners. Ragucci is expected to fill the three-hole, while the four and five slots should be relatively fluid -- filled by a motley batch including Kish, Sager, junior Mike Lorelli and a slew of freshmen. It won't be like 1998, when one injury -- to MacMillan -- caused a dive to seventh for Penn at Heps. "This year, if one guy goes down, it won't affect us much," Kovalsky said. So far, though, that depth has gone untested; Penn has managed to stay nearly injury-free. Sager did break his toe playing soccer barefoot in July -- causing him to miss a month of training. But otherwise, no serious shin splints, stress fractures, sprains or even serious blisters have plagued Penn. It's just been week after week of pounding miles. And, despite the shadow of Saturday's race at Van Cortlandt Park in New York, tomorrow will be much of the same -- a hardly tune-up-like eight to 13 miles. But that's because personal records aren't imperative on Saturday. Team cohesiveness is. "The first four miles, we'll keep the team together, and the last mile, we'll see what we can do," Gioffre said. "We just want to pack it up, run together as a team." The Quakers' competition at Van Cortlandt's eight-kilometer, hill-filled course on Saturday will primarily be teams from the New York area -- schools like Iona and Fordham. None of the Penn runners has ever competed in the Fordham Invitational, but the Quakers certainly aren't strangers to the course. Two of the most important meets of the season -- Heps and IC4As -- take place up in the Bronx. "It's definitely nostalgic when you get [to Van Cortlandt]," Kovalsky said. "You get some butterflies going." But unlike at IC4As and Heps, those butterflies won't be flapping at hummingbird-speed in the stomachs of the Quakers on Saturday. "The Fordham Invitational is more of a low-key meet compared to some of the races later in the season," Kish saidComments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.