After a series of cross-country trips that spread the team apart, Penn track and field is reunited. And this time, the Quakers mean business.
Last weekend, three groups traveled far and wide in search of elite-level performances that would qualify them for the NCAA preliminaries. Unfortunately, however, poor weather in Texas meant that the throwers could not put together the performances they needed to qualify.
Now that the team is back together, though, the throwers are ready for another go. The whole squad will travel this weekend to Charlottesville, Va., for the Virginia Classic Meet. Ideally, the weather will be seasonable enough for the throwing stars to have a good shot at glory.
Senior captain Kelsey Hay is well aware of the opportunity.
While the Ivy League record holder in the javelin has yet to qualify for NCAAs, she has a loftier goal in mind: the Olympic Trials this summer.
In order to receive an invitation to the Olympic Trials, Hay will have to be one of the top 24 javelin throwers in the country. As things stand, she sits in the 28th spot.
“I know that I’m capable of it,” Hay said. “It’s just a matter of putting together the pieces this preseason in order to get to that point by the end of the season.”
Hay’s throwing coach, Tony Tenisci, agreed with her analysis when speaking of her goals for the year.
“I know in her mind — and I think it’s certainly a possibility — she could go to the Olympic Trials with the other two athletes who want to be there, Sam Mattis and Noah Kennedy,” Tenisci said. “They’re of that standard, that they can go all the way. I think she’s more than capable of doing it. If everything works well, and she stays healthy, then I think all of those things are achievable.”
If she did make the cut, it would be a fitting end to her career for the Red and Blue. The two-time captain, who described the title as an “honor,” has achieved just about everything she has set her mind to. Her rise to prominence was a steady progression from good to great, culminating last year in a 13th-place finish at the NCAA Championships, on top of being named to the USTFCCCA All-Academic team.
“Once she graduates — and there is another senior who is graduating too — it’s just me left on the [women’s] javelin team,” junior Lisa Sesink-Clee said. “So we’re gonna go from having a pretty deep javelin squad to just me. That’s obviously a loss as far as scoring points goes. We’re hoping to go 1-2-3 this year at Heps, so losing two of those scorers is obviously gigantic.
“Beyond that, you’re losing a good leader and a good role model, not only for the throwers, but the whole team,” Sesink-Clee continued. “The whole team respects her a lot. She works hard to bring the team together. When she graduates, I’ll certainly miss her, because she’s my main partner, and she’s the one who puts up with me at practice.”
Just about everyone Hay has worked with over her four years for Penn has echoed a similarly high level of respect and affection. Tenisci also had nothing but praise for the outgoing senior.
“She’s just been a real pleasure to work with,” the coach said. “She understood the journey, and she embraced the workload in training. She’s never missed a day for me. I can’t think of a day when she hasn’t been at practice. She’s a very intelligent girl. She processes very well. She’s very physically talented — it helps to be tall. She’s a gifted, gifted athlete. It’s just been a pleasure to be with her.
“She’s been one of my great stories of my 30 years here at Penn,” Tenisci added, “where a small town girl comes to a big city and, in her right, has earned a star status. She’s such a great leader, too. She sets everything by her own example. She understands how to lead, how to be a top athlete [and] how to be dedicated and to work hard.”
And while Tenisci continued to spew praise for his star javelin thrower, using labels like “a dream” and “totally self-made” to describe her, Hay in many ways is emblematic of her team.
“One thing about being in the Ivy League — you don’t own anybody,” Tenisci said. “There are no contracts or scholarships; everyone here comes because they truly want to be here, and they want to be good. They’re self-motivated. Their self-motivation is key to this, because if you’re not motivated, you know, you’re just a warm body walking around.”
Because their participation is purely voluntary, it is even more important to foster a positive atmosphere for the athletes. And Hay believes that such an atmosphere is present all around the team.
“I work with such a great group of girls that being the captain is not a hard task for me,” Hay said. “It’s a team effort, and everyone else is helping to contribute to the leadership of this program, so I love it.”
Everyone contributes to the leadership, and increasingly, many are contributing on the scoreboard for the Red and Blue. From the senior stars all the way down to the freshman phenoms, the Quakers find themselves this year with a team as deep as ever. Throwers, sprinters, distance runners and jumpers alike are all scoring for their team with more and more regularity.
And as the team travels to Charlottesville for the weekend, they will be looking for even more improvement. The women’s team surprised the Ivy League last year with a fifth-place finish at Heps, but things could get better still for the perennial underdogs. With hard work, determination and a little bit of star power, the sky is the limit for this track and field team.
The first step towards progress lies ahead this weekend. Penn will face worthy opposition, including Virginia and Maryland. Hay will surely score points in the javelin, but the onus is now on the team to match her standard.
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