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Penn women's cross country sophomore Melissa Tanaka finished the women's Open Race in 22:04, good for second overall, at the Paul Short Run.

Credit: Chase Sutton

Penn cross country had itself a busy weekend.

The Quakers went back to back this weekend, with some of the men's team competing at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational in Madison, Wis. on Friday and the rest of the men and women's team racing the next day at the Paul Short Run in Bethlehem Pa. Penn faced tougher competition this weekend than it has seen this season, with the men's squad finishing 31st out of 33 teams in Madison. At Paul Short, the Quakers saw better luck, with the women placing 11th and the men placing 28th in the Gold Races.

This was the first strong test the Quakers have faced in the season, after winning their first meet on both sides at the Bison Open and both teams taking second at the Main Line Invitational. The meets this weekend are much more representative of the competition Penn will face throughout its season.

The Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational was a great opportunity for the Quakers' more senior runners to measure themselves against tough competition — in fact, the Nuttycombe course will be the site of the NCAA Championship in November. Even with the low finish, the results show that the Red and Blue are improving. In particular, senior Sam Webb ran 29 seconds faster than last season, setting a new personal record of 24:39 for the 8K race.

"It's going to be a really big stretch-run to make the NCAA championships, but it was a chance to see for any individuals that could make it and, or if the team would have a really impressive stretch-run and make it, so it was valuable that way," coach Steve Dolan said. 

At Paul Short, many new runners gained experience at a large college meet for the first time. On the men's side, freshman Ray Sellaro made a statement by finishing second for the Quakers in the Gold Race in 25:53. For the women, freshman Annie Zimmer was a strong asset, finishing third on the team in 22:08 for the 6K Gold Race.

"It was an interesting weekend for us in the fact that I don't think either team was really quite at full speed or full strength," Dolan said. "We got a lot of good experience and had a number of very good individual performances".

Because of the two meets, the depth of both teams was on display, especially at Paul Short. This is especially impressive and important considering that the women's team has several key members who are sidelined with injuries. On the men’s side, there was less than a minute between the first and last scoring runners in the Gold Race. For the women's squad, that gap was less than 30 seconds. 

The Open Races also showed Penn’s depth. Senior Elias Graca led the Quakers with a time of 26:09 and would have only been three seconds away from scoring in the Gold Race. On the women’s side, Melissa Tanaka was Penn’s top finisher, running 22:04, a time that would have made her Penn’s third runner in the Gold Race.

"For some of our younger runners, it was a chance to run against a national caliber field and get a sense of what that level looks like," Dolan said. "It's very motivational for their training."

This weekend provided Penn with more opportunities to compete against top-tier programs than they’ve seen all season. There was plenty for the Quakers to learn from these races. But, if the improvements and overall depth the Red and Blue showed was any indication, the best is yet to come.