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Credit: Thomas Munson

Historically in athletics, men and women of respective professional sports do not train with or compete against each other. Obviously, there are exceptions. Take Danica Patrick or Billie Jean King, for example. But for the most part, this norm holds true.

These men and women may be friends outside of sports, but when it comes to the court or the field or the track, there isn’t much overlap.

This division quite logically occurs at Penn, too. While the men’s and women’s basketball teams playfully competed in a Twitter challenge to gain the most followers — with the women’s team even receiving the support of Jay Bilas — the teams still have different coaches, different practice times and different game schedules.

However, at Penn there are also exceptions — most notably, the track and field team.

While the men and women of Penn track and field do not officially compete together, keeping separate scores at meets, they are a more unified team than almost any other squad at Penn.

The teams practice together, travel together, cheer on their teammates at meets together and even hang out outside of class together. In other words, they do just about everything besides keep score together.

“We like to think of ourselves as one team heading into meets,” sophomore pole vaulter Mike Benz said.

This solidarity between the two sides not only is good for team bonding but can really impact performance at the meets as well.

“You see the guys doing well, and it gives you a lot of energy to do well yourself,” freshman pole vaulter Nicole Macco said. “Even if it’s not a jumping event, if you see someone on the guys' team doing a really good race, you get that energy and want to do well too.”

Not only can the other gender provide a spark, but they can also provide critical feedback from a unique perspective that can lead to improvements.

“We [on the women's team] don’t just coach each other,” senior thrower Kelsey Hay said. “We have the girls working with the guys, and the guys working with the girls.”

This is extremely valuable for the throwers and pole vaulters alike, since small tweaks in technique can bring about vast improvements in these events — not to mention that the throwing squad is the home to discus superstar, senior Sam Mattis.

Just last weekend, Mattis notched a throw of 67.45 meters, currently the best in the world, which Hay noted provides immense motivation to improve.

“It is really nice to have Noah [Kennedy-White] and Sam as counterparts. They set the bar really high in the meets, so it’s nice to have that figurehead at the top of the men’s team to not just set the bar for the men’s team but for the female throwers too.”

And to be sure, Hay, the Ivy League record holder in javelin, undoubtedly provides the same inspiration for the men’s team.

This mutual encouragement and coaching holds true with the jumpers as well.

“We are constantly pushing each other,” Benz said. “Specifically with pole vault, we practice at the same time and constantly coach each other. Off the track as well, there’s that same kind of cohesiveness. We hang out together and study together.”

While the men’s and women’s teams do a lot to coach each other, Penn coach Steve Dolan does not approach men and women differently in terms of his coaching style.

“I don’t think of it as gender-specific really,” he said. “I think it all depends on the individual.”

Similarly, the athletes see no differences in terms of coaching styles for men and women but applaud the coaches for leveraging the unique strengths of each to help the other.

While rare, the teams do occasionally separate. After the whole group — men and women included — meet together to prepare for competition, the team breaks up into smaller gender and event-specific groups.

“I think it is really nice to have the separate girls' meeting because at the end of the day, we are being scored by ourselves at [the Ivy heptagonal Championships], and we are all working for the team goal of trying to make some noise at Heps," Hay said. 

Regardless, the track athletes agree that they wouldn’t change anything about the unique bond the men's and women’s teams have.

“We are very close, and we love to help each other out,” Macco said. “We are always there to cheer each other on no matter what team.”

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