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Credit: erdolan , erdolan

Penn track and field may be a full winter break and over 40 days removed from their indoor season’s opening meet, but as the team prepares to travel to Bethlehem, Pa. for this Saturday’s Lehigh Challenge, it feels a lot like déjà vu.

More than a month removed from their participation in Lehigh’s Fast Times Before Finals meet, both the men’s and women’s teams will return to Lehigh for their first competitive action of the new year in a small, four-team meet.

The teams will look to duplicate the tremendous success they achieved in their first visit to Lehigh, which yielded impressive team wins from both the men and the women. It has given the team confidence in preparation for the meet.

“Familiarity is nice,” coach Steve Dolan said. “They definitely will have a vision in their head of what they did there last time.”

“We know the track,” junior sprinter Heather Bong added. “That’s going to take a lot of nerves out of it so people can really just focus on their races.”

However, overall team scoring is far from the program’s top priority going into the meet. Dolan has made it clear that the team’s sights are set far beyond scoring well in early indoor meets such as the Lehigh Challenge.

“In the end, we won’t be pulling out all the stops to win the meet,” Dolan said. “We’re more interested in our individual event development.”

Dolan elected to rest his long distance runners following a long cross country season in last month’s trip to Lehigh, so this Saturday’s meet will mark the first indoor track meet of the year in which Penn is represented in all events.

But Penn is not yet fully healthy, with long distance runners still getting back into gear for track season. Sophomore sprinter Chad Payne, who won two events in the first meet of the year, is also out for this week’s meet. Dolan has downplayed the issue of who would participate.

“There will be some people we don’t run yet, just because in their training it is better for them to wait a little longer,” Dolan said.

“[Payne] has had shin trouble … but we’re hoping by the latter part of indoors he’ll be back in full flight,” he added.

Winter break only served to complicate matters, as members of Penn’s program found it increasingly difficult to keep up with their training and stay connected with the team.

“We’ve only been back training for a week,” Dolan said. “The biggest challenge this winter was the weather across the country.”

Penn’s athletes may be ready to get into full gear and start the season off on a strong note, but Dolan is approaching this Saturday’s meet with the long term perspective that has been his trademark throughout his tenure at Penn.

“I’d like to come out of this meet real healthy. We know their performances may not be the performances that are their all-time best,” Dolan said.

“We’re trying to build for the end of the season.”

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