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Senior Gabby Cuccia and the rest of Penn cross country have placed well in early season meets, but this weekend presents a bigger challenge.

This weekend, Penn cross country will look to divide and conquer.

Following two strong opening meets, the Quakers will set their sights on carrying their recent success into their doubleheader this Friday at the Notre Dame Invitational and the Paul Short Invitational.

Unlike the previous two meets the Red and Blue have had so far this season, however, in which they scored very well, this weekend’s events are significantly larger. In the first two meets, they competed against no more than six other teams, whereas the two meets this weekend will each feature over 20 teams.

“In the first two meets, because the fields were small, you never had that crowded feeling or that sort of intensity that goes with a big race, so the big race experience should be important for us,” coach Steve Dolan said.

The Notre Dame Invitational, which will be held in South Bend, Ind., also provides Penn with a new perspective in that the event will host nationally-ranked teams from across the country.

Dolan will be taking his older, more experienced runners to Notre Dame to get a taste for the national competition.

“The goal is to put ourselves in a situation to see some different teams and some teams that might have that national potential,” Dolan said. “That experience will be valuable for us.”

Competing with national-caliber teams will also allow the Quakers to gauge their standing among them and alert them to what they can work on to improve.

“It could be an opportunity for us to show our skill on the national level,” Dolan said.

Last year, Penn’s first year attending the event, the highlight was a fourth-place finish in the men’s five-mile race for then-junior Thomas Awad with a time of 23:26.7. The men’s team placed 15th out of 24 teams, and the women’s team placed 18th out of 20.

The Red and Blue are looking forward to the challenge that the talented field brings.

“We are seeing what is out there,” senior Gabby Cuccia said. “We’re racing against people that are national champions and teams that are national-caliber teams, and for all of us it keeps us accountable for not only ourselves, but each other as well.”

Meanwhile, the rest of the team will head to Bethlehem, Pa., to compete in the Paul Short Invitational.

While this meet will have more of a regional crowd, the level of competition will nonetheless be higher than what the Quakers have seen so far.

Much like the Notre Dame Invitational, Paul Short will provide the Red and Blue with a different experience that will help them in the future, especially for the younger runners.

“Part of the purpose of breaking up into two groups is that the younger guys can take on more of a leadership role,” senior Clark Shurtleff said.

Last year, the men’s team placed 29th out of 42 teams, while the women’s team did not place, having had only four runners compete.

“This is one of those experiences that we can showcase exactly how good we are and the possibilities for this year and the future,” Cuccia said.

However, with a long season ahead, Dolan and the Quakers will ultimately take the results of this weekend with a grain of salt and keep their end goal in mind.

“You build throughout the season,” Dolan said, “with the hopes of getting a little better each week as you build towards the championship.”

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