It’s time to start the season off on the right foot.
When Penn men’s and women’s cross country teams open their seasons this week, they aren’t too concerned with results. Friday’s Bison Open at Bucknell will serve as a benchmark to see where the team is and at what level they can perform.
Despite only being on campus for a week so far, the team has been together for a while, first getting to know each other on a retreat in the Poconos before the season, where the runners had a chance to bond with their teammates in a calmer environment.
“One of the neat things is that when they got to campus, they were already a collective group and comfortable together,” said coach Steve Dolan.
In this first meet, the teams will run for less than usual, with the women running 4000 meters and men running 6000m instead of 6000m and 8000m, respectively.
This shorter course helps to acclimate runners to competition season and will give both the athletes and coaches a sense of how the team will fare in later meets.
“We try to treat this first meet or two as builders for the season,” said Dolan, entering his seventh season at the helm for the Quakers. “The next three to four weeks are a big training block for us, so the meets are an important part of the process.”
The women are looking to bounce back from losing last year’s captain Abby Hong, who finished her Penn career with standout seasons in both cross country and track. The men also lose some key scorers in Chris Luciano, Pat Hally, and Ross Wilson, so Dolan will look to see who can fill these roles for the Quakers.
But the talent isn’t all gone, as a number of returning athletes on both sides, such as junior Aaron Groff and sophomore Danielle Orie look to step up and continue the success on the course for the Red and Blue.
Although the teams want to go out and do their best, this week’s meet should be low-stress for the runners.
“I don’t think this Friday is about results,” said women’s senior captain Karli Visconti. “The goal is always to go in, gain momentum, and use the first meet as a rust-buster.”
Men’s senior captain Kevin Monogue echoed her comments that the team is treating this Friday as a warm-up for the main part of the season.
“It’s important in the sense that we start off on the right foot, but the reality is it’s not the Heps, it’s not the NCAAs,” he said. “Nonetheless, we want to approach every meet with a really strong mentality and focus, and perform as best as we can.”
Rather than go all in for the season opener, Visconti also wants to focus on performing as a team than as a set of individuals.
“Building each other up and carrying each other along throughout the race is more important than beating other teams at this point, so I think we’re really looking to gain confidence and get work done,” she said.
No matter the results this weekend, the Quakers plan to go in, run their fastest, and do whatever it takes to improve this season.
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