Even after 125 years, the Quakers proved they still had something to add to the storied legacy of the Penn Relays.
After a thrilling weekend of competition with over 15,000 participants from almost every level of track competition and countries all over the world, Penn track came away with one of its most successful performances in Relays history.
The Quakers did not waste any time making their presence known. In the College Women's Championship of America Distance Medley Relay, the first of many Championship of America events, the Red and Blue came out on top.
The Quakers got a fast start from junior and 2019 NCAA Indoor runner-up Nia Akins in the the 1200-meter leg of the relay, separating herself from the pack on her third and final lap and giving Penn an early five second advantage.
Akins passed the baton to sophomore Uchechi Nwogwugwu, who proceeded to break her own Penn record in the 400 with a time of 52.22 seconds.
"I think every year I come to Penn Relays and something special happens to me," Nwogwugwu said. "I run my season best every time I run here.”
While the other teams were able to close the gap a little on sophomore Melissa Tanaka and junior Maddie Villalba, the Quakers’ early advantage was simply too much for the other 14 teams in the field to overcome, as Villalba came down the final stretch well ahead of the rest of the teams.
"I was yelling 'stay in the moment' because it is hard when you are by yourself and the crowd is going crazy with the announcer yelling, 'no Ivy team has ever done this before!'" coach Steve Dolan said.
"I needed [the stay in the moment call]. It was very grounding to come around every lap and know that I was going to get what I needed from coach," Villalba said.
The Quakers would finish over three seconds ahead of second place Notre Dame in a performance that made them the first Ivy League women’s team to win a Championship of America relay.
The relay win was just the beginning for the Quakers on Thursday. Sophomore Camille Dickson won the long jump college event, senior Rachel Lee Wilson placed sixth in the championship section of the hammer throw, and junior Maura Kimmel placed ninth in the shot put championship.
The excitement was not dampened by the rain on Friday, as sophomore Ashley Anumba placed second in the discus Championship of America and sophomore Cristian Constantin became the second Quaker of the weekend to win the long jump college event.
The Red and Blue came back on Saturday with plenty of chances to add wins to their already historic performance. After clearing 1.82 meters, senior Anna Peyton Malizia took home Penn’s second Championship of America win of the tournament.
The Quakers also took to the track for three different Championship of America relays. Despite Akins’ record-setting split of 2:02.33, the women placed fifth in the 4x800, while the men’s team finished sixth in the same event.
Facing a difficult battle in the women’s 4x400, the team of freshman Skyla Wilson, junior Cecil Ene, junior Elena Brown-Soler and Nwogwugwu broke the school record with a time of 3:35.43, finishing second to South Carolina.
“We were running against the national champs, so we knew we would have to chase,” Brown-Soler said. “Our goal was to go 3:35 to break our school record and beat our regional mark, and that's what we did.”
In the field events, Penn also found success, getting a second-place championship finish from freshman Marc Minichello in the javelin throw and a fifth-place discus championship performance from sophomore Chudi Ikpeazu.
Even for the athletes who didn’t claim victories, the Penn Relays were still an incredibly special event for all involved.
“We get to practice in [Franklin Field] every day, but when you come for the Relays, it's completely different. It's a little bit intimidating, but we just tell ourselves this is our home, this is our track,” Brown-Soler said.
In an event with so much history and hype, it is safe to say that the 125th running of the Penn Relays will be remembered for years to come.
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