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As a veteran presence for a young Penn track and field program, senior distance runner Chris Hatler will put his experience to use as several Quakers hope to qualify for NCAA Regionals.

Credit: Zach Sheldon

As finals week approaches for students around campus and the stress in the air seems to outnumber the pollen count, tensions are rising in the sports world as well. Spring regular seasons are coming to a close, and only several meets stand in the way of Penn track and field’s pursuit of regional and national success.

The Larry Ellis Invitational — a massive annual track and field conglomerate to be held at Princeton University this Friday and Saturday — is one of Penn’s most critical meets. Over 150 collegiate teams and 36 club associations bring together roughly 2,560 athletes to compete for meet scores and, more importantly, regional qualifying times over the course of the weekend.

“Larry Ellis is one of the bigger meets in the East Coast where a lot of the Ivy League athletes from other schools come to try to get their regional qualifying times,” senior captain and distance runner Chris Hatler said. “So you’ll see a lot of really fast times run, specifically in the 1500 and the 800 [meters], this weekend.”

Following an impressive performance at the annual Transatlantic Series on Franklin Field last weekend, the Quakers hope to push their success over to the Larry Ellis Invitational and expand upon the season’s hoard of victories before regionals.

“We’ve typically performed pretty well [at Larry Ellis]; usually for us this is a preview to Penn Relays to work out the final kinks,” Hatler said. “We’ve had some guys have good PR’s in the 1500 [meters], so hopefully we’re going to have some good young guys run fast this weekend.”

Previous Larry Ellis showings by the Quakers have featured a significant number of event finalists, and though some of these finalists have since graduated, a talented group of Red and Blue underclassmen seems ready to fill these shoes.

Last year, then-freshman breakthrough sprinter Calvary Rogers finished 16th in the final round of the 100-meter dash, while then-senior Thomas Awad snagged eighth in 1500m, then-junior Nick Tuck took second in the 3000m steeplechase and then-sophomore Michael Monroe second in the high jump, among many other finalists.

The women’s team was able to capture first in the 100m and 200m through then-sophomore Taylor McCorkle’s sprinting talent, while then-junior Ashley Montgomery strode to second in the 1500m and Olivia Ryan took first in the 3000m.

“Luckily we have a little bit of both [upperclassmen and underclassmen]. Our seniors are very strong; we have a couple Ivy League champs, we have some guys who have qualified for the NCAA regionals before, but we also have a really strong young squad of guys who are ready to step into our shoes after our class graduates,” Hatler said. “We’re lucky to have some elite young distance runners that are up-and-coming.”

With the full confidence of a team captain behind them, the underclassmen will feel emboldened to perform to their full potential on one of the larger stages of the spring season. While the Penn Relays and outdoor Heps still loom large in the distance, a strong and clear focus on Larry Ellis is integral for admission into meets beyond the regular season.

“This meet is where a lot of guys will try to get their qualifiers for regionals. They [NCAA] only take the top-48 in the region, so we’re hoping to have a couple guys hit the standard for regionals,” Hatler said. “This is a good set-up in the way that you get to see a lot of competition that you’ll see later on after all the Ivy League competition. It’s an exposure to different teams that we normally wouldn’t race, and it’s also trying to get the time to qualify.”

While this meet is especially crucial for senior NCAA hopefuls like Hatler, the poise and composure under pressure that the Quakers have demonstrated thus far can guide them all towards the new records and heights they’ve been striving for.