Penn track and field teams boasted record-breaking times and history-making performances this February at the Ivy League Indoor Heptagonal Championships in New York City. Quakers from a myriad of events capitalized on the large, noisy crowd to garner some of the most impressive achievements they’ve seen in decades.
On the women’s side, the Red and Blue earned a total of 13 podium performances to finish second overall. This included new school records set by senior Cleo Whiting (5000-meter run), sophomore Imani Solan (200m dash), junior Molly Minnig (pole vault), sophomore Rachel Wilson (throws) and the 4x800 meter relay team of Gina Alm, Nia Atkins, Mikayla Schneider, and Ella Wurth.
The abnormally high point total (109.3) was the most Penn has collected since 1987. Similarly, its second-place finish was the best the team has seen since a landmark 1996 championship performance.
The freshman class was a key contributor this weekend, showing up big and putting serious points on the board to elevate the Quakers over third-place Columbia. Freshman Cecile Ene began the freshman insurgence with a silver medal in the 400-meter race, with Nia Akins quickly following suit with a second-place finish in the 500 to match.
“It was really cool seeing [the freshmen] take their potential and put it out for everyone to see,” junior sprinter Taylor McCorkle said. McCorkle snagged a fifth-place finish in her 60-meter dash and was just behind teammate Imani Solan to place fourth in the 200-meter dash.
Solan placed herself among the record-breakers by running a 23.80 — the fastest 200 in school history.
Cleo Whiting then responded with a school record of her own in the 5K, placing third overall with a time of 16:28.49.
“This was definitely one of my favorite meets that I’ve ever been a part of. It was an incredible experience, and it made it even sweeter to realize how far we’ve come from my freshman 22-point total [at Heps that year],” senior captain Ashley Montgomery said. Montgomery took bronze in the mile with a time of 4:47.33 to conclude her final indoor season.
The Penn men weren’t able to find the remarkable success that their female counterparts had, but some epic individual performances exemplified their drive to rank themselves among the very best.
Chris Hatler, Penn’s newest member of the sub-four minute mile club, became the first Quaker to win the mile race since 2006 on Sunday.
“Traditionally at Heps, the mile is run very tactically,” Hatler commented. “The anecdote I go with is, ‘you run the first half of the race with your head, and the second half with your heart,’” he said.
The Quakers were able to witness a legendary display of combined head-and-heart effort in the 200m dash by sophomore Calvary Rogers, who is also a weekly columnist for the Daily Pennsylvanian. Rogers, under intriguing circumstances, ran his heat of the final completely alone — a notoriously difficult stunt to pull off as a track athlete — and still earn a meet record time of 21.39.
“I was in the final heat, and two of the people — one from Brown and one from Princeton — had gotten hurt during the 60-meter. It was just me and this guy from Cornell. Then, turns out, right when the gun popped off, he had false-started. Then it was just me,” Rogers said.
Rogers’ race quickly became a spectacle as the commentator and crowd members alike marveled at how fast he was running against himself. After he crossed the finish line, it was evident that something unique had transpired; Rogers had set a new Ivy Heps record completely on his own. He is also the first-ever Quaker to win the 200m at Heps.
Senior Nick Tuck then made a little history of his own with a 14:16.44 5K time, becoming the first Penn athlete to bring home the gold from this race at Heps.
While these unconventional and inspiring performances were only good enough for a fifth place total overall for the men, they were a solid indicator of an exciting spring season to come.
“This spring, I’m trying to reach heights that I’ve never reached before. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in store — since I’m a lot faster than I was last year — and just really focusing on staying healthy and running my best. It should be a really good season. My definite goal is to go to nationals,” Rogers said of his expected performance in the coming months.
McCorkle voiced a similar expected trajectory with plans to focus on improvement.
“It’s all about maintaining what we’ve already been doing and building upon that,” she said. “All the girls are so talented, and we’re very competitive within our own group, so it definitely helps us bring that competitiveness to the next level and helps us succeed.”
With the outdoor season ahead and wind beneath its sails, the Penn track and field team is set to assert itself against its opponents this spring. If the conclusion of indoor competition was anything to go by, more firsts and broken records are sure to follow.
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