PHILADELPHIA - A remarkable freshman campaign continues for Thomas Awad with a U.S. junior national title in the 5,000 meters on Thursday night. With that effort, and Brendan Smith's second-place finish in the steeplechase, the pair will represent the University of Pennsylvania men's track and field team as members of Team USA at the 2013 Pan-Am Games.
The USA Junior Outdoor Championships serve as the selection meet for the 2013 Pan-American Junior Athletics Championships, August 23-25 in Medellin, Colombia. The top two finishers with a world standard in each event are invited to compete as members of Team USA. Entering the meet, all five Quakers rank in the top 10 of their event.
Awad earned his trip to Colombia when he held off Northeastern's Wesley Gallagher and Oklahoma State's Craig Nowak with a kick to the finish. Awad, who earned All-America in the event at the NCAA Championships on June 8,broke the tape at 15:00.67 to top the field of 27. That was just a few strides ahead of Gallagher (15:01.09) and Nowak (15:02.65).
Smith nearly claimed his own junior national title earlier that afternoon. He was the runner-up by three seconds to Purdue's Tate Schienbein. Smith held a comfortable lead over the rest of the field and finished in 9:20.10 to clinch his spot in the Pan-Am junior games.
Also on the first day of competition, freshman Elyssa Gensib finished seventh in the 3,000 meters with a time of 10:01.58. Meanwhile, Gabriella Cuccia qualified for the finals in the 800 meters with a sixth-place finish in the first round. Against a field of 23, she finished in 2:10.18 which eclipsed her previous collegiate best by 14-hundreths of a second and earned her one of the eight qualifying spots. She then placed eighth overall with a time of 2:14.11 in the finals. On Friday, Clark Shurtleff finished 26th in the 1,500 meters with a time of 4:10.19.
The last Penn athlete to reach the Pan-Am Junior Championships was then-freshman high jumper Maalik Reynolds, who finished second at the USA Junior Outdoor Championships in 2011. The Penn school record-holder then won the 2011 Pan-Am Junior Championship with a height of 2.22 meters (7 feet, 3 1/4 inches).
PennAthletics.com will have complete coverage of the Pan-Am Junior Championships in Colombia, August 23-25.