“It would be awesome to get a big group of guys out at Nationals.”
That comment was made weeks ago by then-sophomore distance-runner Thomas Awad, just days after his historic sub-4:00 mile at the Penn Relays. And while it may not have worked out the way he would have liked for himself, his team largely came through for him.
Penn track and field sent a school record of 14 athletes down to compete in NCAA East Preliminary Round in Jacksonville, Fla. last. They did not disappoint, sending an impressive three Quakers to compete in the NCAA Finals in Eugene, Ore.
“It’s a huge step forward for us,” said coach Steve Dolan. “It definitely gives us a positive feeling about how the spring season went.”
The men’s squad was able to build off of their breakout fourth place finish at this season’s Heptagonal championships with another strong overall performance.
Rising junior thrower Sam Mattis and 2014 graduate jumper Maalik Reynolds – who have stood out for the team all season – came up big for the program once again.
Mattis improved on his school record throw in the discus yet again, tossing the disc 62.13m en route to a fourth place finals-qualifying finish.
Reynolds was also able to qualify for finals, easily clearing 2.17m and placing third overall. The five-time All-American performer will look to end his stellar career with the Red and Blue on a high note.
The men’s side also put up some solid performances on the track.
Rising sophomore Nick Tuck put up an 8-second personal best in the steeplechase, and fellow rising sophomore Brendan Shearn performed well in the 10000-meter, placing 20th overall.
Unfortunately, the breakout star of the year — Awad — was not able to perform up to his high standards.
Awad ran in the 1500m, but was hampered by an inopportune illness and, thus, was unable to qualify for finals. The rising junior was also unable to run in the 5000-meter, an event for which he earned All-American honors as a freshman. It was an unrepresentative end to a season that saw him win six consecutive races at six different distances.
“We had a lot of great performances and a lot of solid performances,” said Dolan of his team.
“Obviously, Tommy [Awad’s] run was sad,” he added. “He had an untimely sickness ... and with the quality of his season, he should be at [finals].”
On a happier note for the Quakers, the women’s squad was also able to send a qualifier through to finals in Oregon.
Rising junior thrower Kelsey Hay put up an impressive mark of 48.89m in the javelin, good for twelfth place overall and the final spot in the NCAA finals.
Hay’s qualifying throw gives the Red and Blue two throwing qualifiers for NCAA finals (along with fellow sophomore Mattis).
This is an accomplishment that would have seemed unlikely a couple years ago, but one that is nonetheless fitting given the tremendous success of the Penn throwing program throughout the outdoor season.
“We have a group that’s deep, motivated, and really pushing each other,” Dolan said. “And we’re bringing in some good freshmen [throwers], so I’m excited.”
Hay may not have the high expectations of Reynolds or Mattis going into finals, but Dolan is optimistic that she will be able to make some noise.
“Both Maalik and Sam were very strong qualifiers,” Dolan said. “Hay is not one of the higher seeds ... but the field is very closely bunched. So I feel good about all the qualifiers.”
Also notable for the Penn women was 2014 graduate Gabrielle Pipers’ performance in the 100m hurdles, the last run of her successful career with the Red and Blue.
“For her to qualify for NCAAs in her last season ... was fun to see,” Dolan said. “And she leaves here as one of the top hurdlers in school history.”
In the next two weeks, Dolan and his staff will focus on preparing Penn’s three qualifiers for competition in Oregon.
The rest of Penn’s athletes will get the next few weeks to recover. But as Dolan is quick to point out, rest doesn’t come for long for a varsity track and field athlete, and it won’t be long until the Quakers head across the Atlantic to compete in the UK later this month.
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