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

The fall season may be coming to a close, but on Saturday, Penn’s most accomplished fall athlete got yet another chance to cement his status amongst the school’s elite. And he took full advantage.

On Saturday, junior Thomas Awad represented Penn’S cross country at the 2014 NCAA Cross Country Championship in Terra Haute, Ind., placing 27th and earning All-American honors.

Going into the meet, Awad knew full well that expectations were high — and that a top-30, automatic All-American qualifying finish was a very realistic goal. As a result, he felt relieved to accomplish just that.

“Trying to go All-American was the goal,” he said. “I’m pretty relieved to live up to the expectations that others had.”

Even with the lofty expectations , coach Steve Dolan was quick to recognize the greatness of Awad’s performance.

“[Nationals is] a who’s who of collegiate runners,” he said. “He ran extremely well. ... It’s just a great result. I’m really proud of him.”

Making Awad’s performance even more impressive were barriers he had to overcome , as he faced his fair share of adversity throughout the race.

After a decent start, Awad found himself falling back in the pack, getting pushed around in the meeting of the nation’s elite collegiate runners. Compounding the problem, Awad hurt his Achilles tendon after getting stepped on in the middle portion of the race.

“I was getting bumped around a little bit,” Awad noted. “Someone stepped on my heel ... and ended up hurting my Achilles a little bit. I had to go on the podium in crutches after.”

He worked hard to get up toward the front of the pack, eventually working all the way up into the top 20.

From then on, as some of the more rested runners started to kick, it was just a matter of holding on for the Red and Blue star, and despite losing some ground, he was able to hold on to a precious, All-American spot.

“He might have moved up 100 places through the middle of the race,” Dolan said. “It’s definitely big for Penn cross country ... to perform that well on the national stage.”

Coming off of a more pedestrian performance at nationals last year, Awad views the result as a significant step forward in his athletic development.

“Running with the top guys at 10K ... where I’m stronger in mile, 5K kind of stuff, it’s a pretty big step looking forward,” he said.

Awad, along with the rest of Penn cross country, will take some time to get healthy before heading full bore into track season.

But for now, he will enjoy the fruits of his labor: the culmination of one of the most successful seasons in program history.

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