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

Most students on campus last Friday stayed cooped up in an air-conditioned room, shying away from the unbearable Philadelphia heat. Penn cross country did not.

On Friday evening, the men’s and women’s teams started off their fall seasons in dominating fashion, handily winning the Big 5 Invitational and maintaining their title as the best in the Philadelphia neighborhood.

At Fairmont Park’s Belmont Plateau, just a few miles away from campus, the Red and Blue fought through the soaring temperatures to put together a strong team effort.

For the men’s squad, the big question entering the season was how they would fair with without three-time NCAA Championship qualifier Tom Awad, who graduated last spring.

“Tommy was a great leader, mentor, and friend,” said senior Nick Tuck, who finished first overall on Friday with a 18:57.0 in the 6K race. “I am going to miss him for sure, but I am looking forward to filling in for him this year.”

They did not show any signs of missing one of the most decorated runners in program history, as they placed six runners in the top 10, including freshman Aaron Groff, who turned in an impressive first collegiate race.

“For freshmen, it is a big jump to college, facing off against older competitors with a great deal of experience,” Penn coach Steve Dolan said. “But I thought they did a really nice job, on both sides.”

For the experienced runners on the team, this race served as a tune-up for greater competition later on in the season. But, regardless of the nature of the race, Dolan was pleased with his team’s performance.

“With the heat and it being the first meet of the season, I think both teams executed really good races,” Dolan said. “I asked them to go out slower and stay together for the first half of the race and then for the strongest runners to go ahead and accelerate during the second half, and they did a great job of that."

The women’s team showed a nice blend of experience and youth, as they swept the top four spots, with three seniors claiming the top three, and freshman Erin Feeney coming in fourth. Freshman Rachel Beston also had a nice race, finishing ninth overall and the seventh Quaker in the top 10.

Senior captain Ashley Montgomery claimed the individual title, clocking in at 14:16.8 in the 4K, a 5:44 mile pace average. Montgomery picked up right where she left off from her breakout season a year ago, as she looks to make her fourth and final year the best one yet.

The two team victories made for an exciting atmosphere at the Belmont Plateau on Friday. 

“It was a nice event competitively, and there was a nice picnic afterwards with all the families,” Dolan said. “It was a really fun way to kick off the season.”

Next up is the Main Line Invitational in Haverford this Friday.

“We are hoping to get cooler weather next week,” Dolan said. “If the weather accommodates, we would love to run a little more honest in the beginning of the race, which will set us up nicely for more competitive races later on in the season.”

Friday represented an important first step for both teams, and they hope to carry this momentum into Haverford next weekend.

“It was great to be back with the guys,” Tuck said. “Now we’ve got to gear up for Haverford, where we will probably do the same thing.”

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