Seniors Thomas Awad (Penn) and Ben Rainero (Cornell) have shared the distance spotlight throughout the year, and it may as well end with them sharing this award. They both had stellar senior year campaigns. Awad earned two All-American honors this past year – a 14th place finish at NCAA Cross Country Championships, and a 3rd place finish in the mile at the NCAA Indoor Championships – as well as defending his HepsXC individual title, a new indoor conference record in the mile (3:57.03), and a Penn Relays Championship of America wheel in a very exciting 4xMile relay. Rainero won not only his first Heps title (indoor 3,000m to a roaring home crowd), but a total of three titles across the year (outdoor 5km and 10km titles) and the Outdoor Heps Track MVP award.
But why both? Because in their multiple head-to-head matchups throughout the year, they produced some of the most exciting and competitive races at a Heps championships.
At HepsXC back in October, Rainero took initial control of the 5 mile race while Awad had to work his way towards the front as the race progressed. Awad made it up to co-leading position with Rainero by the 7.1-km mark. But at the finishing stretch, Awad unleashed his mighty kick and defended his HepsXC title – the first man to do so since Ben True (2005-2006, 2008) – while Rainero could not find that final gear and settled back to 4th place finish.
Rainero and Awad battled in the Indoor Heps 3km, but in different heats, as Awad was in the unseeded heat as he did not have a seed time, while Rainero was one of the fastest entries. Awad – who was the defending champion – tried to set a fast time in the unseeded heat with the assistance of a rabbit. However, it was Rainero’s birthday and the race was being held at his home facility – he was not going to give up. Knowing he needed to run faster than Awad’s 8:16.91 to win the event, Rainero waited to take control of the race by the 2km point and released a 28.1 second final 200m to claim his first Heps title in 8:08.32 in front of a roaring crowd. Awad had to settle for fourth place.
The final time they went head-to-head individually was the Outdoor Heps 5km final. Rainero was coming in with the Outdoor Heps 10km title while Awad was fresh. Both men were at the front of the pack with 2 laps to go, but then disaster struck. With 500m to go, Awad tripped and fell to the track and Rainero pulled away and won his second title of the meet. While Awad made an attempt to get up and regain ground, he ultimately dropped out with 300m to go. He did show initial disappointment, but he regained composure and met Rainero over at the finish line, resulting in the photo above.
Whether or not they do battle again in the future, hopefully they can both recognize on how great the 2015-16 seasons were for not only them, but for their teams and fans.
Carrington Akosa (Princeton) – Akosa won two Heps titles and earned two Second Team All-Ivy honors during the 2016 track seasons. He defended his indoor 200m title in a new meet record (21.56) in a dramatic lean where rumor has it his hand slapped the back of the head of the competitor in the lane next to him. That win, in conjunction with a runner-up finish in the 60m dash, gave him the Indoor Heps Track MVP award. He also anchored the Princeton’s 4×100 relay to an exciting win over rival Cornell and finished as the runner-up in the 100m dash.
photo by Bill Shearn