With a chance to showcase the momentum it has garnered all season, Penn track will test its confidence in the historic 125th Penn Relays this weekend.
The Red and Blue have positioned themselves to perform well, and both the men's and women's teams have the record to prove it. Six program records were topped in April alone. On top of that, Penn leads the Ivy League in the Conference Rating Index and is ranked second in the Mid-Atlantic Region in the Regional Rating Index.
Still, the Quakers have some challenges to juggle this weekend. While both teams have done well this season, the men have had difficulty accumulating wins in track events. Among their competitors this weekend is reigning Mid-Atlantic Region winner Navy. On the women's side, Penn State — the top Mid-Atlantic Region team — will compete with Penn in 17 events, so the Relays will be a great opportunity for the Quakers to test themselves against several elite squads.
In spite of this weekend's high stakes, the Red and Blue don't feel overwhelmed.
“I don’t think pressure is the right word," coach Steve Dolan said. "I think we have extra adrenaline and excitement knowing that it’s our track, and we’re familiar with our field event venues."
As the first of several weighty competitions that mark the end of the season, Penn Relays serves as a litmus test for many athletes looking to grab other significant titles in the coming weeks.
“We’ve been preparing really well all year for big meets,” said senior Rachel Lee Wilson, who is a favorite to win in the hammer throw. “Penn Relays is like dipping your toe into championship season, since [the Heptagonal Championships are] next week and then we’re off to the NCAA Championships.”
Wilson has had an impressive season, smashing her own program record in the hammer throw this month and winning the event just last weekend at Princeton's Larry Ellis Invitational.
Other notable athletes in field events include senior Anna Peyton Malizia and junior Sean Clarke, who both placed second in last year’s Penn Relays in the high jump and pole vault, respectively, and will attempt to improve on their placement Friday and Saturday.
“I’m excited. Every year, Penn Relays has gotten more and more competitive for me, so this year, I’m hoping to do the best I’ve ever had and put everything out there,” Malizia said.
The breakout star of the javelin throw, freshman Marc Minichello, will look to add to his impressive rookie year performance, which already includes nabbing the third spot on the NCAA East list and the fifth position nationally.
In track, the spotlight shines on junior Nia Akins, who is ranked fourth in Division I for the 800-meters and recently beat her own program record. The first Quaker to qualify for the NCAA Indoor Championships since 2008, Akins is poised to kick off her championship season with a good performance.
This weekend’s competition is also the final home meet for the seniors, and the athletes have conflicting emotions about the culmination of their Penn Relays career.
“It’s my last Penn Relays, and it’s always exciting to see Franklin Field filled with people, but it is also just another meet. I’m here to get the job done, but the added excitement of Penn Relays always helps,” Wilson said.
“I missed my first two Penn Relays, so this is actually only my second time running in it,” said senior Calvary Rogers, the 2019 Indoor Heps Champion in the 200m. “It’s bittersweet because I wish I had more chances to run in it, but at the same time, it’s been such a privilege to appreciate it over the four years we’ve been here. And it being the 125th [anniversary] makes it all the more historic.”
Penn Relays will extend until Saturday night. While no one knows what will happen at Franklin Field this weekend, Penn seems on track to rack up some memorable accomplishments in this already historic competition.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.