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The Penn quartet of Akins, Nwogwugwu, Tanaka, and Villalba became the first-ever Ivy League group to win a Championship of America event on Thursday at the Penn Relays.

Credit: Son Nguyen

The Penn Relays is a historic and monumental competition, the oldest and largest track competition in the United States. On the first day of this year's 125th edition of the event, Penn women's track made some history of its own. 

Thursday's most highly anticipated events were the Championship of America Relays, which bring the best teams of college and high school track together. There were two Championship of America events on the first day: the College Women’s Distance Medley and the High School Girls' Distance Medley.

The college event lived up to the hype, as Penn's team of junior Nia Akins, sophomore Uchechi Nwogwugwu, sophomore Melissa Tanaka, and junior Maddie Villalba came out victorious in a 14-team field. This marked the first-ever time an Ivy League women's team had won a Championship of America event.

Credit: Joy Lee

"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. It's really exciting to do it at home as a college student."

The Quakers didn't just win the event; they took it in dominant fashion. With a time of 10:59.44, the Red and Blue defeated second-place Notre Dame by over three seconds and third-place Villanova by more than six.

"This is an all-star group, some of the best runners in Penn history assembled at one time. It is a historic moment," coach Steve Dolan said. "There is nothing more exciting than a relay moment when you do it together. I could not be more proud of their hard work and accomplishment." 

The High School Girls' Distance Medley was also highly anticipated, but for a different reason. Going into the competition, many people were wondering how junior Katelyn Tuohy of North Rockland High School and her team would perform. Tuohy broke the course record at the Shore Coaches Invitational in October, posting an individual time of 16:21, and she was looking to do the same to carry her team in the medley. In the end, they fell short of their goal, coming in sixth place with a time of 11:52.29. The girls from Fayetteville-Manlius High School dominated the competition with a winning time of 11:45.28, almost four seconds faster than the next best team.

The day started earlier, at 9 a.m., with field events. The first competition was the College Women’s Discus Throw, where William & Mary’s Chelsea Wallace won with a top throw of 48.22 meters. The track events started at 10 a.m. with the College Women’s 400-meter Hurdles Championship, where Saint Augustine’s Shannon Kalawan came in first place with a time of 57.37 seconds. These were the first two champions of the day, but there would be many more to come.

The girls from Hydel High School in St. Catherine, Jamaica were the only team to post a sub-3:40.00 in the 4x400 relay with a time of 3:39.98.

While all of the athletes are at the Penn Relays to compete, there are other highlights that will stick with them forever.

“[I'll] definitely [remember] the atmosphere because everyone is just so excited,” senior Casey Ems of Archbishop Wood High School said. “It is so fun being around everyone and being in this atmosphere."

For other athletes, especially seniors, a major highlight is to take in everything for the last time in their high school or college experience at the Penn Relays.

“It means a lot being here. This is a perfect way to end the season,” senior Cobree Hooper from Germantown Academy said. “I’ve come for five years and I’ve run in three. Now as a senior, I get to watch our freshmen run, and it is really beautiful.”

And on Friday, the highlights and history will continue. 

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