It may be early in the season, but Penn cross country is excited about its current standing.
On Friday evening, the Quakers bused to the suburbs of Philadelphia to duke it out with Villanova and several other nearby universities at the Main Line Invitational. While both the women and men were bested by the Wildcats, each squad finished best among the rest in second place out of six and seven, respectively.
When the women took the course, it was clear they had a tough race ahead of them. Villanova, currently ranked No. 9 in the nation, went out fast and left the Quakers in their dust just a third of the way through the three–mile race. Rookie Isabel Hebner was the last one standing with the front pack about a mile in, but she ended up finishing 23 seconds behind seventh place.
“Going out with them was pretty fun, knowing I had a pack that was strong,” Hebner said. “It was fun trying to stay on their tails.”
The Wildcats swept the top seven spots for a clean 15–point victory in the women’s race, but the Quakers swept the next seven spots for 50 points and a runners–up honor. Hebner led the way with a 17:18 finish in just her second race for the Red and Blue, followed closely by junior Maddie Villalba, who crossed the line in 17:20.
“I would say we were fairly successful in focusing on ourselves and running our own race,” Villalba said. “We’re happy with what we did today.”
Both the women and men ran on Friday without their top runner. Sophomore Danielle Orie and senior Kevin Monogue each sat out the tune–up meet due to minor health issues, according to coach Steve Dolan. But had Monogue raced, the men might have taken the top spot from Villanova.
Penn, who won the meet last year, finished with 37 points, just four behind the Wildcats, who finished all five scorers inside the top 10. The lead pack of the men’s race was much more diverse, with Penn, Villanova, and other schools all vying for control of the race from the start. Even with a tight pack, the Quakers lagged towards the behind soon after the race’s start.
In the end, though, Philly’s two powerhouses claimed 16 of the top 20 finishes. Two of the remaining four went to the meet's host Haverford, and the other two were unattached runners.
Over the final mile, sophomore Anthony Russo stormed from the back of the lead group out into a solo finish in second place, with nobody within seven seconds on either side of his time of 19:34.
“I was feeling good, and when I saw someone make a move, I was ready to go with them,” Russo said. “It paid off. So it’s good to see I’m right where I want to be with my fitness.”
Thirteen seconds after Russo’s finish, junior Colin Daly beat out a Wildcat to take the final top–five spot and a decent birthday present back to campus. Daly ran without his twin brother, Will, who was also rested from the race due to a minor injury concern, according to Dolan.
Without key runners and so early in the season, Dolan praised his team’s second–place results as a reasonable success. Around this point in the Quakers’ training, he said, the runners should be reaching their peak mileages for the season and training hard throughout the week, leaving little room for preparing too seriously for a tune–up meet like the Main Line.
“The goal is to see how much we can improve as the season goes,” Dolan added. “I just hope we keep getting better.”
Penn has six weeks until the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships, and a further two until the NCAA regional qualifier. If all goes according to Dolan’s plan, the Quakers will be a more formidable force come championship season.