Thomas Awad (East Norwich, N.Y.) had quite a junior year, both on the track and on the grass. There had been a lot of talent coming through the Ivy League gates these last few years in the long distance events – if I tried to list all of those men, I’d feel bad if I accidentally missed one – but Awad had always been lurking in that pack, keeping up with them. Some led to good results, others not so good. But because those men are gone does not mean that he is just sitting back on resting on his killer kick (well, maybe in SOME races…) During the 2014-15 season, he has moved himself into the position where HE is now the one to beat or keep in the discussion as a winning contender. By June, Awad claimed a total of four individual and one relay Heps title across all three seasons of competition, as well as All-American honors (in cross country with a 27th place finish), two trips to a NCAA championships, and some additional entries into the all-time recordbooks for both indoors and outdoors.
At the Indoor Heps Championship, Awad was once again racing the 3,000m. He experienced a little heartbreak in 2014 when he thought he had won the overall race but was later told by his coach that the first heat had been faster and he only finished third overall. Well this year, he learned from that mistake and made sure to push the pace in the second half of the 3,000m to make certain that his time of 8:05.45 was in fact THE winning time of the event and not the heat. But I think his second win of the meet was sweeter for him, for he anchored his distance medley relay to victory by reclaiming a 10 meter lead from Princeton and then holding off a powerful Yale anchor by 2 seconds – 9:55.56 to 9:57.03. The Quaker squad – Clark Shurtleff, Tom Timmins, Jack Huemmler, and Awad – was the first Penn team to win this event since 1979. Awad was given the Track MVP award for these efforts. In addition, he came within a sliver of breaking 4 minutes for the indoor mile (4:00.20 – #9 all-time) while he also improved his indoor 3,000m (7:54.81 – #4 all-time).
At Outdoor Heps, Awad was the only man to win multiple events on the track. On that hot and sunny Sunday, he first won the 1,500m by turning on his nitro-boosters twice – once with 300m to go to claim initially claim the lead, and once more in the final 50m to silence any challengers on the final straight to win in 3:53.69. Later in the afternoon, he had to contend with some fresher legs from either the 10km from the previous night or steeplechasers from earlier in the morning who were doubling in the 5,000m, as well as stronger temperatures and sun as volunteers needed to throw water on the athletes to keep them cool while they raced. But neither seemed to phase Awad too much as like the 1,500m, it came down to the battle of the best kick and multiple uses of his nitro-boosters to get his second title of the meet in 14:37.78, holding off Princeton’s Mike Mazzaccaro by 0.21 seconds. Like Indoor Heps, Awad was honored with the Outdoor Heps Track MVP honor. The conclusion of his outdoor track season didn’t quite go to plan as he did not finish his NCAA 5,000m final, but he did improve his 1,500m (3:40.68 – #6 all-time) and 5,000m times (13:33.29 – #2 all-time) in the Ivy League record books.
But from what we have heard from the horse’s mouth, his 2014 HepsXC experience might be his best Heps memory to date: “My fondest memory from a Heps is probably winning the cross championships this past year . I was super nervous going in because I was never really the favorite going into a race of this caliber before. If I didn’t win, it would have been a bad day. After winning, I was getting emotional, but I didn’t cry. Crying feels bad so I try to not do that. Also, we finished third as a team! Third is so much better than my first two years so that was awesome!”
Awad still has his senior year to go.
Honorable Mention: Stephen Soerens might be a decathlete, but his best moment came during one of the running portions of this 10-part series. At Outdoor Heps, the team championship title came down to the win in the decathlon as Cornell had a slim 2 point lead over the Tigers (151.5 to 149.5), and Cornell’s Austin Jamerson was in second place behind Soerens in the decathlon – 6,414 points to Soerens’ 6,573 points – with one event to go. Soerens needed to secure the win in the decathlon by finishing ahead of Jamerson in order to help Princeton claim not only the team title, but also another Heps Triple Crown. And he had essentially done his job 1,300m into that final event as he was at least 2 positions ahead of Jamerson. But Soerens was second in the race behind Brown’s Peter Rhodes, and at some point in that final 200m, Soerens decided to give it all he had and win that 1,500m leg. It was indeed a mighty finish for the senior as his teammates swarmed around him once he passed the finish line ahead of Rhodes as he secured the win for the team and put a decathlon performance that was a new personal best and qualified him for NCAAs (even though he had to wait a few days before it was confirmed). But like during that final stretch of the 1,500m, Soerens knew he was able to do more, and he showed it at NCAAs. He earned All-American honors with a 6th place finish in the decathlon with a new personal best of 7,669 points.