Women’s track and field coach Gwen Harris knew her group of 13 recruits was going to be special when they entered Penn as freshmen four years ago.
She just didn’t know how special.
“In the past 10 years, we’ve had seniors that have been great — but not 13,” Harris said. “Normally you have four or three or two that are great, and the other people complement them. These guys complement each other pretty well.”
The numbers the current senior class has put up speak for themselves:
Paige Madison shattered the school record in 400-meter hurdles as a sophomore — the first Penn woman to break the one-minute mark, posting a 58.89.
Madison, Renee McDougall and Leah Brown were part of the 4×100-meter relay team that set the program record two years ago, running a 46.03.
Kristen Judge tied Nicole Maloy’s 18-year high jump record with a 1.75-meter leap on April 14.
And the list goes on.
Harris gushed with pride when talking about her senior athletes.
“What can I say about Renee is that she’s just amazing — she’ll run through a brick wall for Penn.”
“Kristen Judge, as a freshman, she scored at Heps. And every year since then, she has scored at every Heps that she has been in. That’s an amazing feat.”
“They’re not all record-breaking things, but they’re things that help this team become the team that it is.”
Without hesitation, Harris responded that she knew this class was going to be good, but they still surpassed many of her original expectations.
“If you asked me if I knew that Paige was going to just go by 59 [seconds] and go to 58? No I didn’t know that. I thought there would be a little bit more of a progression. But who cares? I love it.”
At this weekend’s Penn Relays and next weekend’s Heptagonal Championships, both hosted at Franklin Field, is there a ceiling as to what these Quakers can accomplish?
“I hope there’s none,” Harris said. “Because I want it to be the best they’ve ever done.”
Though Heps represents the team’s most important meet of the season, for Renee McDougall, Penn Relays is the most fun time of the year.
“We excel as relay teams,” McDougall said. “We’ve been working together for four years. We completely trust one another. We know exactly what we want to do as a relay team.”
The next two weeks represent the team’s “time to shine,” according to senior Victoria Strickland.
“We’re an outdoor team — we see a lot of people peak around this time of year,” said Strickland, who ran the program’s second-fastest 800 meters, in 2:06.88, last year. “This is our home track … Heps might be the last time we’re all competing as one unit, so I think that’s a huge thing we’re looking forward to.”
Moreover, the team is brimming with confidence. They’re cocky, but in a good way.
“We know we’re gonna kick butt,” McDougall said.
For Leah Brown, she wants to leave a mark with her teammates at this year’s Relays. And there’s one simple way to do that:
“Rewrite the record books,” she said. “At Penn Relays, we have to break some records.”
But despite all the records, all the camaraderie, all the support, the seniors are most proud of the team they are leaving behind and the underclassmen that will be taking the reigns.
“We’re passing the baton off to them,” Brown said.
But first, they’ve got to finish the last leg of their own relay. There are still some races to run and some records to break.
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