Track is a unique sport in that months of training can boil down to one race that is over in a matter of minutes. The story is no different for Penn’s women’s 4x800-meter relay squad, as just nine minutes separate four runners from glory.
For the first time in nearly a decade, the Red and Blue will be represented in the championship heat for the 4x800m relay with a squad of junior Taylor Hennig, freshman Candace Taylor and sophomores Ashley Montgomery and Carey Celata.
“This is one of the more talented 4x8’s that’s been put together in the last 10 years,” mid-distance coach Robin Martin said.
What’s so special about these? For one, they are fast. If the Quakers manage to run as quickly as their coaches project, they could smash the school record of 8:40.36 set in 2006 by 10 seconds. To put things in perspective, last year’s lineup from Penn in the women’s collegiate heat crossed the finish line at 9:00.74.
“If it’s a good day for all of us, we’re really all capable of doing it,” Montgomery said. “There’s a chance for us to be a top-five team.”
Also, the four girls have yet to compete together in this event. The only returning member from the 2014 squad is Celata, who is fresh off of an impressive indoor season.
Perhaps what’s most remarkable about this year’s relay team is that none of its members, save perhaps Celata, specialize purely in mid-distance.
“Ashley is kind of a miler, Candace is more of a 400 [meter] runner and Carrie is more of a pure 800 runner,” Martin said.
Penn’s lineup capitalizes on each of the girls’ strengths. In an event such as the 4x800m relay, there is a specific strategy behind each leg of the race.
“Everyone has their job, no job is more important than the other,” Martin said.
The first runner’s main responsibility is to establish her team’s position at the front of the pack of runners. This is especially crucial in a race such as the 4x800m relay because runners start en masse and are not assigned to specific lanes.
“There are a million people on the track at one time,” Taylor said with a hint of exaggeration. “The 4x8 is crazy.”
On Saturday, this responsibility will fall on Hennig, the most veteran member of the Quakers’ squad.
“She can fight her way through a pack and she can be good at fighting for our position in the beginning and setting us up,” Montgomery said.
The second and third runners — Taylor and Celata — must maintain the team’s position in the pack. Once the baton is in the anchor’s hands — Montgomery — it’s a matter of laying it all down on the track.
The quartet faces some of the country’s top competition. Back in 2013, Villanova set the event’s national record inside Franklin Field. Thus, the biggest hurdle for the Quakers is staying focused on their own race.
According to Martin, the challenge is “competing against that level of athlete and really kind of keeping your calm and running your race as opposed to trying to run someone else’s.”
The training is there. The adrenaline is there. The atmosphere at Saturday’s finals will be electric. The coaching is there too; the girls received one prediction from coach Steve Dolan at their relay team meeting with the coaching staff last Monday, according to Montgomery.
“He just said ‘we can do big things.’”
And if the stars align on Saturday, big things might just happen for the Red and Blue.
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