Every year in college athletics brings about the inevitable loss of graduated senior and star athletes, with the next year’s group of veterans responsible for picking up where the previous group left off.
Track and field, however, has had to do a even more rebuilding than usual.
The program’s greatest team in recent memory lost NCAA All-Americans Sam Mattis and Tommy Awad — as well as other star athletes — but perhaps the most notable loss came from the coaching staff that vaulted the team up to its relative success on the Ivy League and national stages in 2016.
Penn’s throwing coach of 30 years, Tony Tenisci, announced his retirement last year after decades of building up nationally competitive throwers, even the most recent of whom make his work look remarkable — 2016 graduates Mattis and Kelsey Hay, as well as senior Noah Kennedy-White, all reached their heights under his tutelage.
Two other coaching staffers also resigned following the spring semester: long sprints and middle distance coach Robin Martin and assistance distance coach and Director of Operations Claire Hewitt.
To replace Tenisci, track and field head coach Steve Dolan has brought in a local man to fill the role.
“We have three excellent new coaches joining our staff, the first of which is Jeff Pflaumbaum. Tony Tenisci retired after 30 years of coaching here at Penn, so coach Pflaumbaum will join us. He has been most recently the throwing coach at Lehigh University, and certainly has a great background in Philadelphia,” Dolan said of the new coach, who also worked at Temple in the past.
Pflaumbaum’s immediate task will be to get the best out of discus thrower Kennedy-White, the thrower most likely to be an All-American performer in 2017. More interesting to monitor, however, will be the development of younger athletes in the next two or three years after his methods have truly sunken in.
The second new coach to come to the team over the summer is Juli Benson, who will be working directly with Dolan on the distance running squad. Benson coached most recently at the Air Force Academy, whose cross country team won the Mountain West Conference title in 2015. And with the women’s team — according to coach Dolan — poised to have their best year in recent memory, she hopes only to add on to that momentum.
"[The women] aren’t back yet, they’re coming in a couple days,” Benson said. “That’s the part I can’t wait for. I’m counting the days, I get to meet them in a couple days, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Dolan’s third and final hire of the off-season was J.J. Hunter, a sprinting and hurdling coach whose most recent experience was at the University of Miami. The Canes’ track team had their best year of performance in 2015 since they joined the ACC. Hunter will work alongside current sprint coach Porscha Dobson in an attempt to kickstart the short-distance part of the squad for the 2016-17 season.
After last year’s third and seventh-placed finishes for the men and women, respectively, at the Heptagonal Championships, expectations are high for the hosts of the Penn Relays to rebuild and incorporate the three new coaches to reach new heights come this spring.
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