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Steve Prefontaine, the legendary American distance runner, once claimed that "a race is a work of art." If that's true, last Saturday's Leopard Invitational was merely the Penn men's cross country team's early sketch for what it intends to be a masterpiece at the Heptagonal Championships on October 27 at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, N.Y. Placing second to archrival and national powerhouse Princeton (15 points) and in front of St. Joseph's (86 points) in the nine-team field, Penn (65 points) used the meet to build coherence among the team's best racers and confidence in the pivotal fourth through sixth runners. Penn coach Charlie Powell instructed his team to race as a unit, even if it meant those orange OP's on the Princeton jerseys stayed out of the scopes of his team's biggest guns. "We held the reins back on people," Powell said. "We didn't want to bang it. We went in with a specific goal, and did what we wanted to do." Consistent with the team's objective, junior Matt Gioffre (25:54) and seniors Brian Kovalsky and Andy Kish (both 25:55) prowled in a pack behind the Tigers' top seven and a lonesome St. Joe's runner to take spots nine through 11. "Running in a pack is a big deal for [Heps]," Gioffre said. "If me and Kovalsky can stick together and a pack of 3-4-5 run well behind us, it is really good for scoring." Penn junior Anthony Ragucci, who meant to trail the lead threesome to help guide teammates forward, came in 17th at 26:15. "I wanted to help pull along the guys behind me," he said. Sophomores Anthony Sager (24th) and Billy Moore (31st) looked to pair-up through the five-mile course, but Moore got caught up in some congestion late in the race to finish nine seconds behind Sager in 26:43. Fellow sophomore Stefan Kolata, the 54th man to finish, rounded out the seven Penn scorers, one minute and 27 seconds behind Gioffre's group. In preparation for next week's pivotal race, Powell has been employing triumvirates, a practice tactic consisting of two hard, steady short runs split by a longer run. Saturday's race served as the first component of this design. Sunday's 15-miler in practice and Monday's six-miler paced at around 5:15 were the final two legs. Penn looks to refine its practice focus this week with a series of speed workouts. This is meant to help runners ascend toward their peak -- a period during which runners are capable of going at their maximum level of performance -- in time for the season's bigger races. "Our peak phase is intended to begin at Heps," Ragucci said. The Quakers adhered to a program of long-distance pounding during the summer and early fall, which builds a base of mileage, followed by a gradual transition to crisp, faster runs down the stretch. And with Princeton sweeping Saturday's race leaderboard, Penn better hit its most valiant stride soon. "Princeton is running excellent. They are a top-25 team in the country," Powell said. The Quakers men's cross country team knows it is time to turn in its sketching pads and pencils and turn Van Cortlandt's formidable outline into a finished work.

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