He’s seen two national champions, three back-to-back-to-back Ivy League Outdoor Champions and three still-standing Ancient Eight record holders under his wing.
And now, after decades helping Penn track and field morph from a cellar dweller into a national powerhouse, he’s seen enough.
Following 30 years of service to the Penn track and field program, women’s head coach Tony Tenisci has officially announced his retirement, effective at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season.
“I have been blessed and honored to have coached at Penn. It was my dream school in 1986 and has remained as such over all these years,” Tenisci told Penn Athletics. “I have known so many wonderful people at Penn who supported me over all these years and especially all the outstanding athletes that I worked with. ... Thank you Penn track and field for a wonderful 30 years!”
Even within the Red and Blue, Tenisci’s abrupt announcement was a bit of a shock. While Tenisci had discussed his status with program head Steve Dolan, athletes weren’t informed of the decision until the team’s season-ending banquet.
“It was definitely pretty surprising; I mean maybe we had a bit of an inkling, but we had no idea about how soon it would be,” said men’s discus thrower Noah Kennedy-White, named a captain for 2016-17. “We had some people who were disappointed, but I think we’re going to talk to the throwers in the next couple of days to see where everybody stands. … I would say that overall, most of us are more surprised than anything.”
While Dolan made sure to praise Tenisci’s versatility, the veteran had primarily focused on the throws in recent years, and — to put it lightly — the results have been astonishing. After coaching javelin thrower Brian Chaput to the national title in 2003, Tenisci hasn’t slowed down, leading senior women’s javelin thrower Kelsey Hay to three straight Ivy League titles and helping senior Sam Mattis to a 2015 national title in the discus throw — in addition to a still-standing American collegiate record of 67.45 meters in March 2016.
“Most recently, we’ve really focused on coaching by event group, and Coach Tenisci is an expert in the throwing events, and that’s one of the strongest parts of our program,” Dolan said. “If you look at the athletes who were All-American last year, with Kelsey Hay and Sam Mattis, for us, the throws are very, very important, and Coach Tenisci deserves a lot of credit for the development of that.”
Having served at Penn since the mid-1980s, Tenisci has unquestionably been a key contributor to the program, but his work in recent years had an even more prominent impact. Named the head coach of the women’s track and field program at the start of the 2012-13 season, Tenisci immediately made his mark on a team that had long stood near the bottom of the national rankings.
The women’s squad’s 101st ranking by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association at the conclusion of the 2014-15 regular season was its highest since 1992, as Tenisci wasted no time asserting his presence.
“Coach Tenisci had assistant coached with the women’s program for a long time and has actually worked with lots of events — most recently just working in throws — but over his years had worked with all different events,” Dolan said. “So, he really has a history of working with women’s track and field and has a great link on the lumps of the women’s track and field program, so it was definitely a career choice that he’d be the right person to serve as our head women’s coach.”
Still, while the statistical impacts Tenisci made on the throws program and the entire women’s team are easy to quantify, the veteran presence he provided was equally impressive.
“The throwers are a very close knit group, and he was definitely a part of that,” Kennedy-White said. “He’s an energetic guy, and he always — even as old as he is — kept up with us well, and we had a lot of good chemistry as a group, so that’s been really important to our success.”
Penn track and field has been busy recently, with the Penn Relays and Ivy League Heptagonal Championships having concluded in the past two weeks. But when the time comes, Dolan and his colleagues will hit the recruiting trail, hoping to fill his noticeable void and keep the program’s rapid ascent moving forward.
“Change is always difficult ... but sometimes change brings opportunity too, so you hope that the new coach might add some enthusiasm and perspective,” Dolan said. “Coach Tenisci will be sorely missed, since he’s always been so energetic and knowledgeable, but we’ll be sure to get somebody good and sustain the rich throws tradition that has come from him.”
“He just gave a positive influence on so many people – not only with our team, but across the sport,” he added. “He’s got such a personality and such an energy about him, and hopefully he’ll keep up with Penn track and field for years to come, because he’s a big part of our program.”
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