The women’s track and field team has already proved that it is fast. Now it’s time to show that it can go the distance.
The Quakers head to North Carolina for the Wake Forest Invitational this weekend, the meet that marks the beginning of the outdoor season.
“You take indoors and you use it to catapult through outdoors to make your outdoor season much better,” coach Gwen Harris said. “We’ve run so much faster than we’ve ever run. It could be an amazing outdoors.”
At the Indoor Heptagonal Championships last month, sophomore Gabrielle Piper won her first career title and set a school record when she finished with a time of 8.49 in the 60-meter hurdles.
Senior Victoria Strickland, whose name appears six times in the Penn record books, earned her first indoor All-East honor at the Eastern College Athletic Conference Championships earlier this month for her performance in the 800-meters.
However, there is one major difference between the indoor and outdoor seasons: a gruelling 25-lap endurance test that can last up to 40 minutes, otherwise known as the 10,000-meter race.
“That runner has to be engaged and compete to the fullest of their ability for over a half an hour,” cross-country head coach and track and field distance coach Blake Boldon said.
“In tennis, golf and basketball there are time-outs, time for you to step away [and] regather yourself. You can collect yourself, talk to your coach, talk to your teammate. In 10K on track, it’s 30 minutes without interruptions, just full-on effort.”
“It takes a really special athlete to be able to concentrate that long and do a good job,” Harris added.
What makes matters worse is that Leslie Kovach, who holds the school record for the 10,000-meter race, was sidelined for much of the indoor season.
Despite coming in sixth place in the 3,000-meter at the Millrose Invitational and qualifying for the ECAC, Kovach did not compete.
However, Kovach is not the only runner to carry the Quakers’ distance hopes.
Sophomore Christine Cohik, who ranked sixth in school history in the 10,000-meters outdoors as a freshman, broke into Penn’s top 10 for the 5,000-meters indoors at Penn State on Jan. 27.
“She hadn’t really had a big breakthrough in the 5K as a freshman,” Bolden said. “It certainly bodes well that she’s made headway. I think that’s what was the highlight of the indoor season from the distance runners perspective.”
As the Quakers look ahead to the very meet where Kovach broke the 10,000-meter school record last year, the Red and Blue know the season won’t be a sprint. They will have to prove that they have what it takes to compete at long distances as well.