After historically successful outcomes for Penn cross country in the Ivy League Championships, both the men and women now turn their attention to the Mid-Atlantic Regionals, where they look to build on their successful performances of this season.
“I think we’re ready to run great races,” coach Steve Dolan said. “We’re really motivated, we’ve got good health, and we have good momentum.”
Over the last five seasons, the women’s team has gone from the bottom of the Ivy League to third place. Strong class after strong class has infused the team with depth and confidence, which junior Isabel Griffith said is “finally coming together” this season.
The women are ranked third in the Mid-Atlantic region and 24th overall in the nation. Last year the Quakers finished sixth in this meet, a respectable result, but well off of the top-two finish needed to qualify for the NCAA National Championships. This year, the team wants — and expects — more.
“For sure the expectation is to qualify for nationals,” Griffith said. “I think the women have been building and building and building, and now we’re finally at a point where we have a top seven team that’s completely ready.”
It will take a very strong effort, though, on their part to take this next step and qualify. The Mid-Atlantic region is saturated with quality, but Griffith and Dolan are both confident that the circumstances are such that, if everyone leaves it out on the course, the collective efforts will be met with success.
All-Ivy senior Ashley Montgomery will likely set the pace for the women as she looks to keep up her dominance of this season. Consistency has been a theme this year for the women, with Montgomery, seniors Cleo and Clarissa Whiting, freshman Erin Feeney and junior Abby Hong scoring in every meet thus far.
“I’m just really proud of these women,” Griffith said. “And I have so much faith in what we’re going to be able to do.”
Morale on the men’s side could not be any higher. The Red and Blue won the Ivy League Championship for the first time since 1973, and find themselves ranked No. 2 in the Mid-Atlantic region and No. 28 in the nation.
The championship has allowed the team to reaffirm the feeling that, as senior Brendan Shearn said, “We’re as good as we knew we were.”
At the same time, this confidence will not distract the team from continuing to train hard.
“We pretty much know that every team out there will be working as hard and are as motivated as we are to try and make NCAAs,” Shearn said. “It’s important to be excited by [the Ivy League Championship], but it’s also important that we keep working going forward.”
Last season, the men finished in second at regionals behind perennial powerhouse Georgetown, and with five of seven runners from that team returning, the team carries the vital experience which could allow them to overtake the Hoyas.
“It definitely just helps in the mindset of it and not being too freaked out by the big race mentality,” Shearn said of the team’s experience. “Having everyone who’s been there and knows what to do... makes a huge difference.”
Shearn, senior Nick Tuck and junior Patrick Hally have been the top three finishers for the Red and Blue in every meet thus far, but what has propelled the team to success has been the amount of depth, as the team has an noteworthy five All-Ivy runners.
“We’re a team that closed really hard at Heps ... and I think that’s one of our strong suits,” Shearn said. “So, I think if we can run hard that last mile, we’ll definitely have a shot at it.”
The men’s and women’s cross country teams have had sensational results throughout the season, and through a heightened sense of confidence, hard work and experience, they both possess a great opportunity to qualify for NCAA Nationals.
“We’ve been saying just because we ran good at Ivy’s doesn’t mean they’re going to give it to us here,” Dolan said. “We’re going to have to run great, and I think they’re prepared to.”