Penn cross country will be covering more ground than usual this weekend.
The Quakers will be split between two meets, with a portion of the men's team flying out to Madison, Wis. to race in the Nuttycombe Invitational on Friday. The women’s team and the rest of the men’s team will be racing at the Paul Short Invitational in Bethlehem, Pa. on Saturday.
Originally, both teams were expected to send their top groups to compete in Wisconsin, but the women decided to stay together in the face of some midseason illnesses and injuries. In the midst of these minor setbacks, the Paul Short Invitational will allow the women’s team to recuperate and focus on building strength moving forward.
“We’re currently looking to be conservative with a few people and get them back to full health," coach Steve Dolan said. "The competitive situation at the Paul Short course will be a better match for where the girls team is at currently."
On the women’s side, the team is looking to build strength in their top group, having lost standout runners from previous seasons.
“We don’t need one person to be excellent, we just need a group of us to be great," senior captain Karli Visconto said. "We have a very young team, with a lot of freshman who have the potential to be in our top seven, so [the goal is to] make sure they go to races with confidence and with the awareness that they can contribute."
Unlike the spring season, during which each runner competes in different events, cross country is a time for the team to unite in a more common goal. The men run eight kilometers and the women run 6Ks, both of which require significant endurance built during countless hours of grueling summer training.
Despite the physical difficulties of running longer distances, the charm of fall is that the team has a more unified approach and feel, given that individual scores matter less than how the team performs overall. Although splitting up the team is not ideal, flying to Wisconsin will give the men’s team an exciting opportunity to race on a broader, national stage.
“The reasons for sending part of the men’s team to Wisconsin are two-fold," said Dolan, who will be flying back from Wisconsin on Friday night to attend both meets. "One is that Wisconsin is the site of the national championships, so the runners will get to experience racing on the actual course where they’re hoping to race later in the season. The second is that the competition will provide a great midseason challenge."
This weekend is the 10th anniversary of the Wisconsin Nuttycombe Invitational, and as always the course will provide significant challenges and competition. The course features thick woods and rolling hills which male runners will have to navigate for 8K. Many of the country’s most elite collegiate runners will be there, with everyone vying for a chance to race on the course again later in the season.
In the past, more than half of the teams who have claimed gold in Wisconsin in September go on to finish in the top two at NCAAs.
Although this weekend will provide a great assessment of where Penn stands, the team is currently focusing more on the end goal of the season.
“Cross country is unique in that you build the whole season to be the best at the end. We don’t put too much weight on this part of the season,” Dolan said.
And if they build towards that goal well enough, the Quakers might just find themselves returning to Madison in November.