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Freshman pole-vaulter Sean Clarke leads an immensely talented freshman class for Penn track and field.

Credit: Zach Sheldon

Spring is almost here, and if there’s one thing on the mind of every Penn student nowadays, it’s getting outside. No one is more excited than the track and field team, though.

This Friday’s Philadelphia College Classic marks the kickoff of the outdoor season, and for many freshmen, the first opportunity to compete at Franklin Field wearing the Red and Blue.

Many of their names will sound familiar: most of the team has spent the last few months showcasing their abilities indoors, despite being forced to do so on a half-length track, off a cramped runway, or constrained to only a fraction of their repertoire in the throwing circle.

Many put up truly impressive performances, and it’s clear that this recruitment class has a lot of potential.

“This year’s really exciting, I think on the women’s side, it’s one of the largest classes we’ve ever had, so that’s made a really big impact,” coach Steve Dolan. “On the men’s side, though it’s a normal sized class, there’s definitely some really strong individuals in the class.”

Outdoor track is a different animal, however, and can present just as much of a challenge to transitioning runners as a reprieve. Moving outside will be a game changer for many of the team’s quickest athletes.

For some, it compresses more runners into fewer events. Mid-distance runners who spent the winter honing their specialized race strategies in either the 400, 500, 800, 1000 or 1600-meter runs are now forced to choose between the 400, 800 and the 1600.

Nia Akins, who grabbed silver at Ivy Indoor Heps in the the 500 with a time of 1:12.75, will likely be pushed into a more competitive field, whether it be down to the 400 or up to the 800.

Other times, it can be a literal and figurative breath of fresh air. Akins, together with fellow freshman mid-distance runner Mikayla Schneider, made up half of Penn’s school record breaking 4x800m relay team that locked down another second-place finish later that same meet.

Though the team’s 8:45.54 mark alone is a remarkable accomplishment, it’s likely that the Quakers just warming up. Like most races, the 4x800 runs inherently faster outdoors, particularly because of the alleviation of such burdensome indoor features as increased frequency of turns and of passing, especially during later laps when the field is spread more uniformly around the track.

Additionally, there’s no doubt that the hurdlers are itching to get outside as well. The men’s team’s hurdle core is made up entirely of freshmen: Xavier Jackson, Joseph Jordan, and Anthony Okolo chalked up sub-55 400m intermediate hurdles times in high school and, because indoor only offers the 60m high hurdles, haven’t yet had the opportunity to show off their primary event at the collegiate level.

Also, don’t forget about Cecil Ene and Brynne Bygrave, who were point-scorers in the 400m dash and the 60m hurdles at the close of the indoor season and will continue to be dangerous as the outdoor season ramps up.

Comparatively, as they move into their third athletic season of the year, there aren’t as many uncertainties with Penn’s distance squad. The freshmen have had all of cross country and all of indoor to get accustomed to the collegiate scene, and in the case of a few, to make a name for themselves.

On the men’s side, Penn has brought in some weapons in the mile. The Daly twins, Will and Colin, boasted twin 4:10 PR’s in high school. And for the freshmen oriented toward even longer distances, such as Aaron Groff and Andrew Hally, who have both ducked well below 9:20 in the 3200m, new challenges like the 10,000m run and the steeplechase await.

For the women, miler Christina Rancan had an especially notable indoor season this year that should translate into successful outdoor performances so long as she keeps pushing to keep up with veterans like Ashley Montgomery.

Erin Feeney, meanwhile, has been so consistent running the same 5,000m to 6,000m across two very different seasons that she should have no trouble with the transition to outdoor track’s 5k and 10k.

“We have a ton of great freshmen this year and it’s really motivating to see them and it pushes everybody else to do their best as well,” said junior Molly Minnig.

Lastly, when it comes to freshmen, no two have come out stronger than Sean Clarke and Maura Kimmel in the field. They have both set school records in the pole vault and shot put, respectively.

“It’s really great. It’s really amazing,” raved senior Lisa Sesink-Clee of Kimmel’s breaking of the school record. “We all knew she was right there, but it was a big PR for her to shatter that record, and the fact that she has been able to do it so many times. But the outdoor record is another thing, and it’s going to be really exciting to see how far she can push that, too.”

Kimmel will also be presented with new opportunities as she moves outdoors: the discus was one of her strengths in high school, and it is one of the multiple throwing events, along with the hammer and javelin, that are not held indoors.

“Honestly I’m just sad I won’t be around to see them personally when they’re seniors, just because they’re gonna be so, so good,” said senior Noah Kennedy-White.

By the looks of things, he won’t be wrong.