A fresh start. A new beginning. A clean state.
Whatever you want to call it, the 2018 season for Penn men’s and women’s cross country kicked off on Friday in an extremely successful fashion. Both teams were victorious at the Bison Open at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., scoring a total of 29 points each in the one-day meet.
Even though the competition was primarily intended to be a warm-up for the rest of season, coach Steve Dolan was encouraged by the performance of the two teams.
“I thought we got off to a real good start,” Dolan said. “It’s early for us in the season so our goal was to run well as a team and work together to get off to a good start to the season, and I thought both of the teams did a real nice job."
In fact, the runners had only been practicing together for a week on campus before the meet, making their performance all the more impressive. The teams combatted this competitive rust with some unique strategies designed to ease them into the season.
“We encouraged them to run together as much as possible in groups,” Dolan said. “We also asked them to be cautious in the first half of the race and more aggressive in the second half.”
This packing allowed for extremely consistent results, as the women took seven places in the top 10, with junior Maddie Villalba leading the way in third place with a time of 14:13.6 in the four kilometer race. Like Dolan, she thought that the team’s strategy was integral to its success.
“We packed together and ran together which was really key for us, and even when it wasn’t the front pack we had lots of clusters throughout,” Villalba said.
The men’s team had a great deal of success on Friday as well, with five runners finishing in the top 10. Sophomores Anthony Russo, Ryan Renken, and Daniel Cohen all finished in the top five, with Russo placing in second with a time of 18:53.1 on the 6K course.
Like his coach, Russo echoed that while Friday’s competition was a success, it primarily served as preparation for the next few months of meets.
"It was a good stepping stone for what’s to come later in the season,” he said. “We’re looking to keep building our base mileage, keep getting in good workouts and runs together, and just stay healthy.”
Continued practice and preparation will be vital going forward, especially because this week’s meet did not necessarily give the runners a complete test of their abilities. The women will eventually build to 6K races while the men will work up to 5 miles, which is slightly more than 8K.
While the ultimate goal for the men’s and women’s teams may be to improve on their respective third and seventh place Ivy League finishes from last year, they are now focused on slowly building to each meet. Their next test will come at the Main Line Invitational at Haverford College in the Philadelphia area in two weeks.
“This first month, from the end of August to the beginning of September, is really an intense training month,” Dolan said. “These first two meets set the stage for the bigger invitationals and championship meets to come later in the season.”
If Friday was any indication, the season has a lot of promise.