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Big 5 Cross Country Meet. Penn dominated Credit: Michele Ozer , Michele Ozer

There’s a moment in every team’s season when it becomes apparent whether those long months of training have really paid dividends. For the men and women of Penn cross country, that moment is right now.

On Saturday, the Quakers will travel to Princeton to compete in the annual Heptagonal Championship meet to test their mettle against the rest of the Ivy League.

Both programs are coming off solid performances at the Princeton Invitational two weeks ago, where they gained some valuable experience running on the same course as they will be running this weekend.

However, they know that this coming meet will present an entirely different challenge.

“Everything is going to be at another level at Heps,” junior captain Tom Awad said. “But I think last week was a great simulation for us in terms of pace and getting to run the course, and I think it will be a real advantage for us.”

Awad, who won the Princeton Invitational and who has twice been named Ivy Runner of the Week, will be looking to lead the Quakers with another top finish this weekend.

“If I run my race and perform to the level I think I should, then I think I can win,” Awad said. “I know I won’t be happy with anything else, and scoring one point for our team I know will go a long way to help us in team scoring.”

On the women’s side, Penn will rely on the depth of its team and hope to recreate its performance at Princeton where the Red and Blue had three runners cross the line within only two seconds of one another.

“I think one of the strengths of our team is that we have five runners all capable of finishing within a second of each other,” sophomore Clarissa Whiting said. “On any given day, any one of those girls can step up and lead that group, and if we can work in that pack together, we can be very successful as a team.”

Penn will look to improve upon its performance in last year’s cross country Heptagonals, where both the men and women teams finished sixth overall. However, all signs this season have indicated that this is a far different program than the one that competed a year ago, and the Quakers seem primed to take the next step forward.

“I think the underclassmen have matured a lot over the last year, not only as members of the team but also individually,” Whiting said. “I think mentally we have really grown, and I think we have really begun to be more responsible for ourselves and what we can do to make not only ourselves but the team better.”

“Based on our level of performance and the times we have been running, I’m confident that we are a faster team then last year, but that still doesn’t guarantee a difference in placing,” coach Steve Dolan said.

“What’s interesting about the Ivy League is that there is so much parity between the teams that a perfect day or a bad day could be the difference between finishing second and finishing seventh. Clearly our goal is to move forward in the team placing, but all we can control is running our very best, and that is what we are going to try to do.”

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