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After a devastating leg injury and multiple surgeries, senior Conner Paez will return to the Penn cross country team this weekend in its first race of the season.

Easy does it to start the new year.

The Penn men’s and women’s cross country teams are scheduled to set off running this Friday night in their first race, the Big 5 Meet at Belmont Plateau right here in Philadelphia. But the Red and Blue will be able to ease into the flow for their season opener.

A simple one-kilometer loop repeated six times is all that lies ahead for this week- end’s trail, since “the coaches of all the Big 5 schools want to keep an eye on their runners,” according to senior captain Conner Paez.

That means some of the pressure is off.

“It’s much more of a relaxed meet than normal,” he said. “It’s kind of like a warm up for the real races in this season.”

Yet even though this meet affords the runners some serenity, it’s an exciting return to the cross country trails for Paez.

After a devastating leg injury, multiple surgeries and a brief return to the track this past spring, Paez, now a senior, is running in his first cross country meet since his freshman year.
And he is ready to go.

“I’m definitely in a lot better shape than I was going into the summer,” he said. “I had a really good few months of training, I did more mileage than I’ve ever done in my whole life.”

Of course he didn’t go it alone. Coach Steve Dolan, now in his second year with the Red and Blue, was just the man to prescribe the right runs for Paez.

“Coach Dolan really gave me some good workouts,” Paez said. “I’m just really excited to get back into it.”

But there’s no mistaking that the Quakers know this is still a race. With familiar foes in a familiar territory, Paez and the team have their strategy all worked out.

“We’re only doing 6K instead of 8K so we’ll run more as a pack for the first two- thirds of the race,” he said. “We’re just trying to keep it a little more relaxed … but there’s definitely going to be a bunch of good runners out there.”

With a gameplan set and the tone of the meet established, Penn is ready to take on La Salle, St. Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova.

After this weekend, the teams will have a couple of weeks before they head up to Haverford, Pa., for the Main Line Invitational.

CORRECTION: This article previously erroneously referred to 2013 graduate Leslie Kovach as a current member of the cross country team.


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