Penn’s track and field program is rooted in history.
The three coaches who have taken over since Charlie Powell’s retirement hold five school records, three All-American titles and eight individual Heptagonal championship titles between them.
Interim head coach Robin Martin has announced that Penn track alumni Samantha Crook and Tuan Wreh will be joining the staff as full-time assistant coaches.
“When coach Powell left, we had to find a staff to take care of the athletes not only quickly, but we had to find the right staff,” said Martin. “It was a unique challenge in a very short time. I was lucky enough to have those people here already.”
Both Wreh and Crook had been volunteer assistants for the program the past six years.
However, making the transition from volunteer assistant to full-time assistant has brought its challenges.
“There’s a lot that went on that I wasn’t aware of as a volunteer coach,” said Crook, who will also serve as an assistant for the women’s team. “I was pretty sheltered.”
Some of the additional responsibilities the assistant coaches will help with are recruiting and other administrative tasks.
“There’s more accountability,” Wreh said. “As a volunteer you have a message that’s heard by the athletes, but it’s funneled through the staff to the athletes.”
But Wreh and Cook are using their experiences as Penn athletes to bolster their coaching skills.
“What [the Penn program has] been in the past and who we have been as a team, as a culture of a program, is something that’s very unique in the country,” Martin said. “So to have people [who] understood that already [to] be part of the staff is great.”
Changes in leadership are not new to Crook. When she was an athlete, coach Betty Costanza retired halfway through her freshman year.
“I think everyone was a little nervous when they heard coach Powell was leaving, and as an athlete, I had a similar experience,” she said.
The three coaches, who are steeped in the Penn tradition, plan on moving the program forward.
“We’ve kind of taken that Penn tradition and given it an updated 2012 spin,” Martin said.
As well as some additional workouts and new exercises, the coaches now videotape every competition and do a voice-over instructing each individual athlete on ways to improve.
Martin maintains an open door policy when it comes to athletes questioning new policies.
“With Ivy League athletes, I think it’s a very different breed,” Martin said. “They want to know why. And it’s not because they want to challenge you, it’s because they want to take some ownership in their own training.”
Wreh, who was a member of a team that won two outdoor Heptagonal championships, credits his era’s success to team unity.
“For the most part, a lot of things that we’re doing are very similar to what they used to do, but the difference is going to be reigniting that team environment,” he said. “By being a team, the individual performances will come.”
As his squad prepares for the indoor Heptagonal championships in two weeks, the new coaches are striving to give their athletes the experiences they cherished when they were on the team.
“We’re all going to work equally as hard in order to bring the whole name of the University of Pennsylvania’s track and field program back to the prominence it once had,” Wreh said.