Penn track and field may be known for traveling distances quickly on the track, but this weekend the program will take its traveling abilities to the extreme.
In the course of only a few days, the Quakers will send athletes to compete in Florida, California and New Jersey in what should serve as their biggest competitive test of the still-young season.
With a few low-key meets under their belt, the Red and Blue feel that they are in form to start challenging themselves on the track, no matter the venue.
“Up until now it’s been a lot of work ... we’re kind of setting the table for the rest of the season,” middle-distance coach Robin Martin said. “Now, it’s an opportunity for these athletes to really test themselves against the best.”
Of particular note and intrigue will be the Florida Relays, which host some of the premiere middle-distance runners in the nation. The meet will be littered with veteran athletes, but Penn has two freshmen who just may be up to the challenge.
Those freshmen are middle-distance runners Candace Taylor and Jeff Wiseman, both of whom have already taken the Ivy League by storm, winning several individual events in both indoor and outdoor competition. Both are excited to step onto what should be the biggest stage of their young collegiate careers.
“I think at first I was very afraid of the elite runners in college,” Wiseman said. “But now that I’ve had such success ... I’m really ready to attack it.”
Despite the relatively high stakes of the upcoming weekend, both freshmen — along with the rest of the team — were remarkably loose in their Wednesday practice. According to Penn’s coaches, that is all by design.
“I’m just trying to ... get into a groove where I feel comfortable and confident in myself,” Taylor said. “That’s something that sometimes doesn’t come as easily, especially as a freshman going to such a big competition.”
Elite competition will not be exclusive to the Sunshine State for the Quakers this weekend. The Stanford Relays also provide some of the year’s top distance-specific competition, this time for Penn’s long-distance runners.
“[It’s] the best meet in America for the longer distance events throughout the entire year,” Martin said. “So the opportunity to go to [Florida and Stanford] is great for those athletes.”
This means that Penn’s top distance athletes, like junior Thomas Awad and sophomore Nick Tuck, will get their chance over the weekend to show what is in store for the rest of the outdoor season.
Meanwhile, the rest of Penn’s competitive squad will travel to Princeton to participate in the Sam Howell Invitational. Martin hopes that his squad’s wide exposure will provide a showcase for its depth of talent.
“You’re gonna start to see that Penn track and field has elite athletes,” Martin said. “And behind those elite athletes we have some very good athletes.”
Among other logistical challenges, the weekend will also put a strain on Penn’s coaching staff, which will be pulled in three different directions. However, Martin also believes that Penn’s “deep and talented staff” will shine through.
There’s a lot going on for the Quakers this weekend. But ultimately, the reason they have this weekend circled on their calendar is simple: the past few meets have basically been tune-ups, and this marks the beginning of the tough part of their competitive slate.
As Martin put it: “It’s real outdoor track.”
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