Damp, uninviting conditions played as the backdrop to the crown jewel of the Ancient Eight’s cross country season: the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships, an event that saw the youthful Quakers face difficulties.
At the 2017 iteration of the Heps, the men’s squad finished in third place while the women’s came in at seventh place. In this year’s edition, both the men and women took a small step back: fourth place for the men, eighth place for the women.
Defending champions reigned supreme on Saturday. Princeton took home the men’s crown with 30 points, and Columbia’s nationally ranked women’s squad defended their 2017 gold with 52 points. Both champions were more than 30 points clear of the second place finisher — a true show of dominance.
The Penn men and women came in with differing expectations.
Looking to build on last year’s bronze finish, the men set their sights on loftier goals.
“As a team, we were trying to win the race. That was really it — just trying to win the race,” sophomore Anthony Russo said.
On the women’s side, the goal was to string together as many strong individual performances as possible to build momentum for the future.
“I think we just wanted to place as high as we could,” sophomore Danielle Orie said. “We wanted to have individual, good races collectively as a team. We weren’t expecting to win, we just wanted to do the best we could out there.”
While, expectations-wise, the men and women had their differences, in terms of strategy, the two squads took a similar approach to the race — that is, one that focused on maintaining a close distance to the front of the pack at a steady pace and start a move halfway to three-quarters through the race.
“Our aim was to stay in contention for the first [4,000 meters] and then once we got halfway through the race, we had the mindset where it was like ‘okay, let’s be in there and when they make a move, be ready to go with it, grit it out, and see what happens,’” Russo said.
The weather played an important factor in the race. Orie, who lead the women with a 25th place finish, described the conditions as “crummy”; Russo simply said it “was not that great.”
Russo and senior Sam Webb led the way for the Quakers, placing 10th and 11th in the 8K race, respectively. Junior Aaron Groff and sophomore Alex Roth both finished in the top 20, and sophomore Daniel Cohen placed 36th to round out the Red and Blue's top five.
Orie, a 2017 All-Ivy runner, finished in 25th place in the 6K. Juniors Maddie Villalba and Nia Akins came in at 32nd and 36th, respectively. Freshman Annie Zimmer and sophomore Melissa Tanaka composed the remainder of the top five, with finishes in the mid-to-late 40s.
Overall, while the athletes may not have gotten the results they had hoped for at this year’s Heps, there is still reason to be hopeful for the future. Of the top-five finishers from both the men’s and women’s teams, only one will be graduating next May.
“With the spirit we have, it’s not a matter of how many times we win, it’s a matter of how many times we are defeated and we stand up from it,” Orie said.
With leadership and wisdom like that, there is good reason to believe that the Quakers will be back in a big way at Heps next year.