It’s the end of an era for Penn men’s track and field.
After years of service leading the rebuild of the Quakers’ men’s program, senior superstars Sam Mattis and Thomas Awad donned the Red and Blue for the final time on Friday evening, competing in the discus throw and 5000-meter run, respectively, at the 2016 NCAA Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore.
Mattis finished in second place in the men’s discus throw earning his third consecutive first team All-America honors, while Awad took 22nd place in the men’s 5000m to secure an honorable mention All-America spot.
Penn’s evening was opened by Mattis, who was the presumptive favorite in his signature event all season after setting a still-standing American-born collegiate record with a gargantuan toss of 67.45 meters back at the Philadelphia College Classic in March — a full sixteen feet further than the next farthest throw by an NCAA athlete in 2016, courtesy of Kansas’ Mitchell Cooper.
But Mattis — attempting to become Penn’s first two-time national champion since Bruce Collins won the 400m hurdles in 1972 and 1974 — struggled early on, barely advancing into the final flight with a first round mark of 57.98 meters.
In the finals, Mattis came with a stronger effort of 60.96 meters on his fifth attempt, boosting himself into second place and leaving him in an eerily similar situation to the 2015 NCAA Finals, when he trailed Tennessee senior Tavis Bailey by two inches entering his final throw before coming through with a then-lifetime-best of 62.45 meters to take the national title.
Unfortunately, there was no repeat miracle for Mattis this year, as the superstar fouled on his last attempt to finish the day in second place. Nebraska sophomore Nicholas Percy, ranked only ninth in the nation in the event entering the day, ended up stunning the field with a lifetime-best effort of 61.27 meters en route to a first-place finish.
Awad was next up for Penn, competing in just the 5000m, despite owning the second-fastest 1500m time in the NCAA this season.
Like Mattis, Awad started off slowly, trailing the front of the pack after the first several laps as a star-studded field led by defending champion Edward Cheserek of Oregon set a blistering pace.
And while Awad — who held the 13th best collegiate time in the event in 2016 entering the day — made a name for himself with epic last-minute comeback efforts earlier this season at the Penn Relays, there was simply too much ground to make up on Friday night. Awad ended up finishing with a time of 14:21.06, with Cheserek taking first place in a phenomenal season-best time of 13:25.59. Even Awad’s season-best of 13:41.77 would’ve only resulted in an 11th place finish, demonstrating the unparalleled depth that was on display in the highly anticipated race.
Still, Awad’s efforts were good enough to secure honorable mention All-America honors — his second time doing so for outdoor track and field, and fifth overall All-America nod including contributions to cross country and indoor track and field. Mattis and Awad combined for eight All-America berths in their careers, making themselves the 37th and 38th All-Americans in program history.
Overall, the Penn men’s team earned nine points from Mattis’ second place finish, allowing the Quakers to finish in 29th place nationally – this marks the third consecutive season Penn has finished in the top 50, after previously not having done so since 2004.
And even though Mattis and Awad are done imprinting their names on the Red and Blue record books, the summer of competition has only just begun for both superstars. Both will return to the same Hayward Field venue in early July to take part in the U.S. Olympic Trials in advance of this year’s Rio Games; Mattis qualified for the Trials in the discus throw with his record-breaking toss in March, while Awad recently qualified for the 1500m with a seasonal best time of 3:37.75 — also the second-fastest in Ivy League history — at the Swarthmore Final Qualifier in May.
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