In more ways than one, Penn's women's cross country team will be starting over this season. Not only are eight of the 14 runners freshmen. Not only is senior captain Meredith Rossner the lone remaining Quaker from Penn's top five runners at the beginning of last year. But now the Quakers -- along with all other female collegiate harriers -- will have a new distance to run. This year, the standard course length is 6,000 meters -- 1,000 meters longer than last year. "Really, it doesn't change the complexion of the race that much," Penn assistant coach Crickett Batz-Shaklee said. "For the most part, a distance runner is a distance runner and 1,000 meters is not that big of a stretch." But it's certainly a change. "I don't even know what a good 6,000-meter time is or anything," junior Samantha Desposito said. The runners, however, aren't the only ones that have to adjust to the new length. The organizers of tomorrow's Lafayette Invitational had to alter the course to add another kilometer. When the Quakers visit the familiar cornfields-and-hills course at Easton, Pa., tomorrow for their season opener, they will have an extra loop to traverse at the end. Granted, the loop -- unlike the rest of the course -- is relatively flat. But it still changes Penn's strategy. "We're going to treat it as a 5,000-meter race with an extra thousand meters added on the the end," Rossner said. This alteration in race distance has another effect -- it starts a new page in cross country record books. So the Quakers' top finisher tomorrow will automatically set a team record in the new 6-kilometer distance. But who that record-setter will be is still up in the air. Returners Rossner, Desposito, junior Katie Henderson and sophomores Alexandra Bliss and Emily Turner are all expected to be top contributors this year. But one of the newcomers could steal that top spot on the team. Batz-Shaklee says sophomore walk-on Kristen Koch has looked "very impressive." Meanwhile, there's a lot of talent in the untested freshmen. Only three of the seven freshmen on the squad -- Erin Okawa, Vanita Spagnolo and Kim Milans -- have ever run cross country. Emily Logan and Cristen Butler both played soccer in high school, while Abbi Gleeson and Caitlin Driscoll were ice skaters. Penn hopes to rebound from its abysmal 1999 season. A year of injuries, runner departures and poor performances bottomed out with a last-place finish at Heps. "Last year, it was like a dark cloud hanging over our heads every meet," Rossner said. "I don't think there was one meet where we ran with a full healthy squad, and that just eventually started to hurt us mentally and physically." Barring a complete turnaround, Penn won't be in the running for the Heptagonal Championships, but there's nowhere to go but up for a team with seven freshmen and only one senior. "We just want to prove ourselves in the Ivy League again," Henderson saidComments powered by Disqus
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