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In one of the tightest races men’s cross country coach Charlie Powell has witnessed, 58 runners finished between 25:00 and 25:20 at Friday’s Paul Short Invitational.

Unfortunately for his Quakers, only two of Penn’s top-five runners finished ahead of that pack. In the end, Penn’s combined time of 2:04:29 was only 1:13 shy of tenth-place finisher Saint Joseph’s, yet its 500 points was only good for 14th out of 42 teams. Indiana won the meet with 44 points.

“This may have been the deepest race I have ever seen,” Powell said. “Usually the pack will spread out over the course of the race. This one stayed like a giant amoeba.”

The upperclassmen led the charge for the Red and Blue: junior Christopher Baird’s 24:10 was a team-best, and was good for 23rd place overall. Classmate Luke Grau, who recently recovered from a stress fracture, followed, placing 50th with a time of 24:35.

“Give him a little bit of time, and he will be right there with Baird,” Powell said.

Rounding out Penn’s top five were senior Kevin Sullivan (25:06, 122nd place), junior Robert Duggar (25:19) and sophomore Evan Heflin (25:20).

The women’s cross country team also competed at the Lehigh-hosted invitational. With 321 points, the Quakers took seventh place out of 40 teams, a great improvement from last year’s 15th-place finish. West Virginia won the meet with 105 points.

“It was a giant-sized race,” coach Gwen Harris said, “and the freshmen aren’t used to that yet. It was a very solid day.”

For the women, it was the underclassmen that paved the way Friday, as sophomore Laura Steel finished first for Penn, placing 38th with a time of 21:23. Freshmen Margaret Diacont (21:37) and Leslie Kovach (21:41) followed Steel, taking 61st and 67th, respectively.

Senior Kellee Hand (21:44) finished in 75th, and fellow senior Anna Aagenes (21:46) came in 80th, completing the top five for Penn. Both women improved their times significantly from last year, as Hand cut 75 seconds and 91 places and Aagenes moved up 39 seconds and 38 places.

The improvement and high finish gives Harris reason to be optimistic.

“We learned we need to not just run, we need to race,” she said. “This is a really good indicator of what’s to come.”

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