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As a member of the Penn track and field team, freshman pole vaulter Nicole Macco is one of many spring athletes that will have to balance competition and finals in the final stretch of the year.

Credit: Yosef Robele

All of Penn’s student body knows that “finals season” is approaching.

But for a select subset of the school, the phrase is a bit of a double entendre.

For Penn’s spring athletes, academic exams won’t be the only hyper-competitive action in the next few weeks. During the school’s final exam period of May 2-10, both men’s and women’s track and field and men’s and women’s lacrosse will be competing for conference titles, with baseball and softball also still in contention for the Ivy League Championship Series during the same week.

“It’s just a matter of really, really managing your time correctly, because that’s the one thing you can’t get back,” freshman sprinter Calvary Rogers said. “It can be very hard when you’re really nervous for a race and nervous for a test as well, but the one thing you have to tell yourself is that if so many people on this team have made it through, you definitely can too.”

In addition his sprinting work, Rogers has made strides off the track as well, having joined the Undergraduate Assembly in an effort to help athletes manage their seemingly impossible workloads.

“One reason I actually joined the UA was to try to figure that out more,” he said. “Maybe start a policy where athletes can get some more leniency or a better system regarding [the scheduling of in-season exams].”

Indeed, with both Penn’s athletic teams and academic courses simultaneously entering the most critical portions of their respective seasons, avoiding such conflicts can be difficult due to the jam-packed schedules.

“We’ve had some situations where professors will allow alterations of a test time or we’ve had to proctor a test during travel, but obviously students come to Penn for academics first, and we understand that,” said track and field coach Steve Dolan, whose teams will compete in the Ivy League Championships from May 7-8. “People have had to miss competitions. ... There are simply times when we’ve had to step away and give up a competitive opportunity for the students’ academic pursuits.”

Still, the professors’ difficulties in scheduling exams pale in comparison to those faced by the athletes themselves. In addition to the already daunting grind of preparing for their respective postseasons, Penn’s student-athletes are forced to tackle the challenges of readying for exams at the same time, leaving time for all work and no play as soon as each day’s final whistle comes.

“It’s all about time management; as soon as you get done with practice, you do need to go back and get your work done,” freshman pole vaulter Nicole Macco said. “We definitely came into school knowing that we should be expecting this. ... You know that you’re not going to have the time that other students do to go out and do fun things sometimes.”

One benefit that Dolan’s squad does have is the largely individual nature of track and field, which permits athletes to work on their crafts when they’re forced to miss a team practice.

But this isn’t at all the case for Penn’s lacrosse programs, which have each clinched berths in the Ivy League Tournament from May 6-8.

“You know what you have coming up for weeks, so sometimes you might just have to do things ahead of time,” senior women’s lacrosse midfielder Brooke Kiley said. “For example, I have a finance exam on Thursday and we have [Ivy League-leading] Princeton on Wednesday night, so I studied for that exam like a week ago and it’s not really on my plate anymore. ... Everything is kind of that mentality; there can be difficulty prioritizing things, so you have to find that balance and make decisions for yourself.”

Understanding the increasing burdens on their players, coaches can work to help marginally, but a drop-off in intensity with conference and national titles at stake is unacceptable.

“As we get later in the season, we don’t need practices to be so long, so we can try to keep them working harder for a shorter period of time,” women’s lacrosse coach Karin Corbett said. “The reason each of these kids came here is to be student-athletes; lacrosse is a big priority for them right under academics, so they just have to look ahead a little bit more than a normal student would.”

One might think that with all the obligations surrounding Penn’s spring athletes, the academic performances would inevitably drop — but the numbers say otherwise. Penn boasts five of the 110 Division I teams that have earned Public Recognition Awards (given to teams that had Academic Progress Rate scores in the top 10 percent of their sport nationally) in each of the past 11 years — the fourth most in the country.

Even more amazingly, four of these five are spring sports, proving that Penn truly encourages the student-athlete label even in crunch time.

“It’s a competitive academic environment, but the hope is they can use their day hours to the best of their abilities and find ways to recover,” Dolan said. “In the end, I really think academics and athletics can work well hand-in-hand — our students can excel in both.”

Now, with only nine days until the Penn Relays open and thirteen days until final exams, Dolan’s team and several others are rapidly approaching the opportunity to back up those words yet again.

Let the games begin.

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