Penn men’s cross country started its postseason with a bang on Saturday, as the Red and Blue captured their first Ivy league title in 43 years.
At the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships, the Quakers placed all five individual scorers in the top 12 en route to a dominant team victory.
“The guys were off the charts and it was such a great team effort,” Penn coach Steve Dolan said. “We executed a great race today.”
The team’s season began with one looming question — how was the team going to fare without three-time NCAA Championship qualifier and defending Ivy League champion Tom Awad, who graduated last spring?
Seniors Nick Tuck and Brendan Shearn answered that question on Saturday, leading the way to the men’s team championship, a feat that the Quakers were never able to accomplish in Awad’s career. Tuck finished the 8K course in fourth in a time of 23:56.7, while Shearn was right behind him in fifth at 23:58.3.
“Nick and I tried to get out in front and stay in the front throughout the race; we wanted to make sure we were as high [in the standings] as possible,” Shearn said. “At three miles we were third as a team, but by mile five we had won by 20 points.”
“For the first two miles there were 30-40 people in the [leading] pack, but when it thinned out to the top-15, we still had all five of our guys up there,” Dolan added. “The second half of the race was a really good run for us and we finished strong.”
On the women’s side, senior Ashley Montgomery continued her impressive season, finishing second overall and leading the Quakers, who are currently ranked 24th in the nation, to a third-place finish, their best since 2005. Montgomery’s individual finish is the best in the history of the women’s program.
Their 77 points was the team’s best tally since 1991, with Clarissa Whiting, Cleo Whiting, Erin Feeney and Abby Hong joining Montgomery in scoring for the Quakers.
Saturday marked the final Ivy League Championships for seniors Montgomery, Cleo and Clarissa Whiting, who saved their best Heps performance for last — the team had finished sixth in 2013, eighth in 2014 and fifth in 2015.
Likewise, the seniors on the men’s squad have experienced a parallel transformation and development over the past three years, with Dolan’s program embarking on a rapid rise through the national ranks on both the men’s and women’s side.
“It’s been phenomenal to watch [the] team go from the back when we were freshman to champions now that we’re seniors,” Shearn said. “We couldn’t do it without everyone here.”
Last year, the men’s team came up one point short of capturing the Ivy Heps team championship at Van Cortlandt Park in New York City. But on Saturday, at West Windsor Fields, they put that memory far behind them.
“Its been a crazy journey,” said senior Chris Hatler, who finished eighth overall in 24:08.4. “We were sixth our freshman year, and now we’re champions.”
After Saturday’s meet, the Quakers now have 60 student-athletes that have earned All-Ivy honors in the cross country program’s history. On Saturday, Shearn and Tuck repeated as multiple award winners, receiving first team All-Ivy accolades after earning second-team honors in 2015.
54 of the All-Ivy honorees have come under Dolan, who is only in his fifth season as the Quakers’ coach.
“Its been a real honor working with Coach Dolan,” Tuck said. “He’s helped us and always has been so confident in us.”
Both teams will continue the journey at the Mid-Atlantic Regionals in two weeks, where they hope to once again earn bids to the NCAA Championships in November.