PHILADELPHIA – In the weeks leading up to Heps, the University of Pennsylvania men’s and women’s cross country teams made some promising strides. The Quakers started the 2014 campaign with the Big 5 Invitational, held at West Fairmont Park’s Belmont Plateau, where both squads took the top five spots for first place finishes. The Red and Blue continued to shine as they stayed local, once again, for their second meet – the Main Line Invitational – at Haverford College. A water logged course didn’t faze Penn as the Quakers once again finished on top. While team scores were not recorded, the top five women had a 2-3-4-5-6 finish and the men were 3-6-7-8-11. Freshman Abby Hong was HepsTrack.com’s first repeat honor of the season, earning Female Rookie of the Week for her performance in the two races.
The first big test of the season came a couple weeks later, when select members flew to South Bend for the Notre Dame Invitational. Both the men and the women faced a large pack of regionally and nationally ranked teams. Junior captain Thomas Awad had an outstanding race, finishing fourth overall, which landed him his first Male Athlete of the Week honor from HepsTrack.com this season. The remaining team members competed in the Paul Short Run.
Before competing at Heps, the Red and Blue had a chance to preview the course by participating in the Princeton Invitational. Both the men and women took third place. Awad finished the 8k first overall in 24 flat, while the top three finishers for the women – Clarissa Whiting, Cleo Whiting, Elyssa Gensib – finished 13-14-15 and within two seconds of each other.
Just like that, the biggest meet of the season was right around the corner.
While the women didn’t finish where they wanted to at Heps, placing eighth, the men had their best team score and finish since 2007. Penn scored a total of 111 points to go along with a third place finish, defeating Dartmouth by a mere one-point difference. Along with the team having a phenomenal day, Awad made Penn history by becoming the first Quaker to win the individual Heps title since Dave Merrick in 1975.
The men rode their momentum into the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regionals and the women hopped onboard as both teams finished sixth. Two Quakers from each squad earned All-Region honors after finishing among the region’s top 25. In the women's 6k, the Whiting twin sisters once again crossed the line back-to-back with Cleo finishing in 19th and Clarissa in 20th; in the men's 10k, Awad finished third overall and senior Conner Paez, who had his best finish at Heps with a 15 place showing, placed 23rd.
As the lone qualifier for the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, Awad made his second-straight trip to Terre Haute, Ind. While his teammates cheered him on from Philadelphia, Awad once again wrote his name into the Penn history books with a 27 place finish, earning All-America honors. He was the first Quaker to do so since Dusty Lieb finished 26th in 2002. Awad also became the fourth-highest* finisher for Penn at the championships.
Cross country season may be over but the Red and Blue will begin the indoor track & field season on Saturday, Dec. 6 at the Lehigh Invitational in Bethlehem, Pa.
*Dave Merrick finished 18th in 1971 and 9th in 1975.