PHILADELPHIA – The University of Pennsylvania men’s and women’s cross country teams will begin the 2015 season at the annual Big 5 Invitational on their home course, Belmont Plateau, on Friday. The yearly tradition will have the Quakers compete against city rivals La Salle, Temple, Villanova and Saint Joseph’s.
“I can't think of a better situation to open our season than to race against the Big 5 at Philadelphia's historic course at Belmont Plateau,” said head coach Steve Dolan. “I know both our teams are looking forward to testing their fitness after a long summer of hard work. I'm also looking forward to seeing our freshmen race for the first time in the Red and Blue.”
The Quakers dominated last year’s city championship, taking all of the top-five slots in both the women’s 4K and the men’s 6K. All five top finishers for the women return to this year’s race, while the men will have four of their five back. Conner Paez, who won last year’s men’s race with a time of 18:40.6, will be the lone non-returner for the Quakers.
As a whole, both the men and the women have solid cores returning this season to a pair of teams that had great success last fall. Seniors Amy Darlington and Thomas Awad will once again captain each of the squads, leading their respective teams for a second consecutive season. Darlington is coming off a 2014 season in which she scored at both the Heptagonal and NCAA Regional Championships. Awad, meanwhile, earned Penn's first individual Heptagonal cross country title in 40 years and became the school's first cross country All-American since 2002. Award finished 27th at the 2014 NCAA Championships, recording a 10K time of 30:46.3.
Other standout returners for Penn include Cleo Whiting and Clarissa Whiting. Both twin sisters earned All-Region accolades last season after finishing in the top 20 of the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional.
In addition to the individual excellence last season, both the men and the women put together strong sixth-place team finishes at the NCAA Regional. The men also placed third at the Heptagonal Championships, a three-place improvement from 2013 and their best finish since 2007.
The Big 5 Invitational will kick off a season in which the Quakers will race an identical schedule to last year. Penn will compete in five invitationals prior to the Heptagonal Championships at Van Cortlandt Park on October 30. The NCAA Regional Championships are set for November 13, with the NCAA Championships scheduled for the following weekend.