This Friday, Penn cross country will be looking to bounce back from its performance at the Ivy Heptagonal Championships and continue in the direction the team had been heading in before Heps as it travels to State College, Pa. for the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regionals.
In 2017, both Red and Blue teams finished in sixth place. At this year's meet, the Quakers will have plenty of opportunities to exact revenge against teams they lost to last season, such as Penn State and Villanova on the men’s side and Pittsburgh and Princeton for the women.
Of the seven runners who competed for the men's team at Regionals last year, four are returning this season. This will give the veterans an opportunity to test their progress since 2017, while also giving the underclassmen, who have been leading the way this season, a chance to prove themselves in a high-stakes meet.
On the women’s side, five runners from last year’s seven return to the course. The time between Heps and Regionals may have given the Quakers a boost, as several of the women have been plagued by injuries this season that have prevented the team from reaching 100 percent fitness.
“We ran this course before, so we can go in with confidence” junior Nia Atkins said. “We know how we did at different points and we know what we need to improve upon for this time.”
The men’s squad has faced a series of ups and downs this season, with a gradual progression as the competition increased. In their two championship meets this season, the Quakers performed well, coming in seventh of 21 teams at the Penn State National Open, and subsequently fell just short of their third-place finish at Heps in 2017 by taking fourth.
“Looking around at our group of guys heading to Regionals … there’s a ton of sophomores. It’s really exciting for us, we’ve already had conversations about what we need to do to be better in the next year, or, for them, two years,” junior Aaron Groff said. “We’ve held those conversations off a bit, and put the primary focus on this weekend.”
In light of the injury troubles the women's squad has faced, several underclassmen have stepped up to lead the team. In the last three meets, sophomore Danielle Orie has finished in the team's top three after starting the season injured and was the Red and Blue's top runner at Heps. Veteran members of the team may also finally be back to a state where they can support the Quakers this Friday. Junior Nia Akins competed at both championship meets after taking a week off and was the third finisher for Penn at Heps.
For the Quakers to make it to the NCAA championship meet next week, they will either have to place in the top two teams on Friday or be selected as an at-large team by the NCAA Division I Cross Country subcommittee.
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