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In a welcome conclusion to its season, the Penn men's cross country finished eighth out of 25 teams at this past Saturday's NCAA District Championships and, in the process, went a long way toward soothing the sting of a seventh-place finish at the Heptagonal Championships two weekends ago. "This definitely takes some of the sting off," Penn junior Anthony Ragucci said. "Heps is on a whole different level, so it doesn't erase anything. They say you're only as good as your last race, so in that sense it's good to have done well at Districts." The Quakers may have finished well behind first-place Georgetown and second-place Villanova, but Penn has plenty of reason to be pleased with its performance on the 10-kilometer course in State College, Pa. Three Red and Blue runners crossed the line in the top 50 at this ungainly 177-competitor race. Senior Bryan Kovalsky, in his final cross country race in a Penn uniform, secured 21st place with a time of 31:14. Ragucci was the next Quaker to come in, capturing 32nd position with a time of 31:37. Sophomore Anthony Sager rounded out the top three with a time of 31:42 and a 39th-place finish. Penn coach Charlie Powell's runners were very close to an even higher finish on Penn State's stomping grounds. If the Quakers had corralled just four more team points, they would have vaulted past two teams -- West Virginia and Farleigh Dickinson -- into sixth position. And that would have marked an improvement over last year's seventh-place outing at Districts. Perhaps the most important factor in the Quakers' favor this past Saturday was their mental outlook going in. "At Heps, we really talked it up and wound up putting a lot of pressure on ourselves," Ragucci said. "This time, we knew the importance of the race, but coach made sure that we were relaxed the whole time." Making sure not to psych themselves out of the race, Penn showed that it is still a force to be reckoned with on the East Coast. Last season at this race, the team performed similarly, but with one major exception -- then-seniors Scott Clayton and Sean MacMillan won trips to the NCAA Championships by finishing third and eighth, respectively. At every District Championship throughout the country, the top two teams win automatic trips to NCAAs, and those went to Georgetown and Villanova on Saturday. In addition, the top four runners overall who are not part of those squads get a trip to Nationals -- which will be held this year at Iowa State -- and that's how the pair of Penn runners went last year. This year, the Quakers harriers had no such luck, but this race still bodes well for them. "It's an improvement over Heps, and I think everybody is happy with that...," Ragucci said. "Last year, I was 90th, so I'll definitely take this." The Penn top five on Saturday also included senior Andy Kish and junior Matt Gioffre. Kish has been a nice fourth/fifth man for the Red and Blue this season, and Gioffre, whose health has been sub-par over the past few weeks, will be a vital part of Penn's distance events in the winter and spring.

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