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Credit: Son Nguyen

Swapping out the Quaker's red and blue for Team USA colors is a huge honor for any collegiate athlete. 

Penn track saw not one, not two, but three athletes travel this summer to Costa Rica to don red, white, and blue at the Under 20 Pan American Games. Sophomores Mayyi Mahama, Ariana Gardizy, and Marc Minichello competed in the hammer throw, 3K, and javelin throw, respectively. 

Qualifying for the team required a top-two performance at the Under 20 USA Track and Field Championships held in Miramar, Fla. in mid-June. The top two competitors in each event are given the opportunity to compete for the United States at the U20 Pan American Games. 

“We knew it was going to take a really good throw to make the team, but we also knew that necessarily winning the competition wasn’t the goal,” Minichello said. “We looked at it through a smaller lens, knowing it was kind of a three-man race between me, a kid from LSU, and a kid from Texas A&M. Granted, I had my best day of the year, beating both of them.”

Minichello hit a mark of 77.15 meters in the javelin, a throw that would have qualified him for Olympic Trials. And the impressive results by Penn athletes did not stop there. 

Gardizy claimed second in the 3K, securing a spot on the Pan American team with a time of 9:41.15. 

Mahama also had a huge showing in Miramar, setting a personal record in the hammer throw of 65.66m, which was also a program record and the second-best all time in Ivy League history. After finishing second to recently graduated senior thrower Rachel Lee Wilson at the Ivy League Heptagonal Outdoor Championships in May, Mahama’s throw replaced Wilson’s Ivy League record. 

For Mahama, competing in Florida was a matter of remaining calm in a high stakes environment after a disappointing performance at the NCAA Championships in May, where she took 24th place in the country.

“I was mainly working on my mental game alongside balance and technique,” Mahama said. 

After qualifying in early June, the Quakers then had almost four weeks of downtime before traveling with 81other athletes to the 20th edition of the U20 Championships. 

Despite it being an international meet, the overall tone of the competition was calmer than Marichello was accustomed to. Due to the drawn out nature of his season, he returned home to Scranton, Pa. after the Outdoor Championships to rest for a couple of weeks, knowing that he had also just qualified to compete at the 2019 Outdoor Championships (for all age groups) in Des Moines, Iowa. 

“I had just taken three weeks off, and we were looking forward to the USA Championships a little bit more. Our priority was to have fun at the meet, take everything we could, do the best possible, but not really get worked up over anything” Marichello said. 

Mahama and Marichello both recalled enjoying the more relaxed environment that the meet provided, taking advantage of the exposure to the greater international community of elite athletes. 

“The coolest part of competing in Costa Rica was meeting the people,” Mahama said. “I met a lot of people that I wouldn’t have met competing in the Ivy League or throwing in the United States. The best part of competing over there was easily the team”.

Mahama took second overall in the hammer, throwing 61.61m, less than a meter behind the 62.36m Cuban throw that took first place. Though it was far from a personal best, Mahama took the competition as another opportunity to work on keeping her composure in higher pressure situations. 

“In Costa Rica, my goal was also to stay calm," Mahama said. "I had a really good practice and pre-meet. I didn’t execute at that meet, but I was focused on having good ball speed and posture, because those are the parts that are very important to my throw. I had a real turning point this year with my mindset going into meets. I used to be frazzled or distracted, but now I’m working on being more focused and tough."

Gardizy fell just short of a medal, placing fourth in the 3K with a time of 10:09.32, and Minichello placed sixth in the javelin with a throw of 64.01m. 

Team USA won the overall meet, pulling in an impressive 21 gold, 19 silver, and 10 bronze medals. For Gardizy and Mahama, the event marked the end of a very long season. 

Minichello, however, would go on to compete in Des Moines, Iowa with junior Nia Akins and recently graduated senior Anna Peyton Malizia at the USATF Outdoor Championships at the end of July. Competing against the best throwers across all age groups in the USA, Minichello placed 11th with a throw of 69.58m. 

“I thought that meet went pretty well. My coach and I tried to use a little bit of a different throwing style, which ended up working pretty well for that meet," Minichello said. "To be able to go out and try something new at a meet that had such high stakes and so many people watching, I don’t think I could’ve asked for much more."

For both Minichello and Mahama, their first summers on the international stage have only ignited a fire to compete for Team USA. With three years of competing for the Red and Blue left for them both, they are already thinking about their post-collegiate athletic careers. 

“I’m two meters off of qualifying for the Olympic Trials, and I think I’ll get to that mark with the hammer in this athletic season. Once you put that USA jersey on, it’s such an incredible experience that you always want to pursue it further,” Mahama said. 

For Minichello, who has posted an Olympic Trials qualifying throw, he already has his sights set. 

“The 2024 Olympics will be two years plus graduation, so for at least the next five years, I will be 100 percent committed to furthering my athletic success,” Minichello said.

Mahama, Minichello, and Gardizy will undoubtedly be names to look out for as they continue to develop as collegiate and national-caliber athletes this season and beyond.

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