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03-27-21-penn-challenge-track-demetri-whitsett-chase-sutton

At the Quaker Invitational, senior Demetri Whitsett had a ninth all-time finish for Penn when he earned a total of 6,948 points between all of his events.

Credit: Chase Sutton

Building upon their recent success, Penn track and field racked up 21 first-place finishes at this weekend’s Quaker Invitational.

The competition, which was hosted by Penn, was highlighted by seasonal-best marks for the Quakers, as well as a few performances that will stand tall in the Penn track and field record books.

Coming into the meet, coach Steve Dolan had expected to see some good performances, given that it was around the midpoint of the season. Additionally, the nice weather conditions during both days gave the team a solid boost.

Among the 21 top finishes, 12 were on the women’s side, with many coming on the first day of competition.

The most notable of Penn’s victories came from junior Haley Rizek, who won the women’s heptathlon with a record point total. This meet was the first time this season that some of Penn’s multi-event athletes competed in the decathlon and heptathlon.

Rizek won with a 4,941 point total, which puts her at fifth in the competition in program history. She won the 100-meter hurdles (14.91), 200m (25.62), shot put (11.73m), long jump (5.32m), javelin (40.29m), and 800m (2:25.68).

The multi-event junior describes her success as coming from her relaxed mindset going into the competition.

“I wasn’t so much focused on the points or the results,” Rizek said. “I was just kind of trying to do my best in every event, so it really made the whole meet so much fun, and the weather was so beautiful, and obviously being on Franklin Field, which is like the most amazing track in the country, it was just amazing. It was just really inspiring to see how far we’ve all come, so we all wanted to lay it out on the line today.”

In the throwing events, which took place at the Mondschein Throwing Complex, the Quakers swept them all. Senior Ashley Anumba and junior Mayyi Mahama won the discus (52.12m) and hammer (62.10m), respectively, with each throwing what Dolan considered to be competitive marks on a national level.

Sophomore Morgan Johnson hit a new career high in the shot put (14.01m), elevating her to fifth in program history in the category. Additionally, Dolan highlighted junior Kirstin West, who won the javelin with a distance of 40.61m.

Penn kept up their success in the running events. Junior Ariana Gardizy ran the 1500m in 4:29.33, which just misses a top-10 all-time program record.

“4:29 is a good time for Ariana, and actually, she’s better in longer events, so it was a great step down to the 1500 for her,” Dolan said.

Junior Ellen Byrnes scored a top finish in the 800m with a 2:13.11 time, which was her seasonal best and almost her career best. Normally the top hurdler for Penn, sophomore Grace O’Shea worked on her speed this weekend and won the 100m in 12.19 seconds. Senior Camille Dickson continued her great final season, as she again won the long jump with a distance of over six meters. On top of that, Dolan said she looked really great in the 200m, running a 24.48 second time.

The weekend’s success was not limited to the women, as the men picked up nine first-place finishes as well. Similar to Rizek, senior Demetri Whitsett won the men’s decathlon, which required victories in numerous different events. 

“Demitri Whitsett had a great meet, just shy of 7,000 points, which puts him top-10 all-time at Penn, so that was a great performance for Demitri in the decathlon,” Dolan said.

To be exact, Whitsett had the ninth-best all-time finish in program history, as he scored 6,948 total points. He won the 100m (11.02), long jump (7.06m), 400m (51.07), 110m hurdles (15.88), discus (37.78m), pole vault (4.65m), javelin (40.53m), and 1,500m (4:44.08).

In the field events, sophomore Olatide Abinusawa secured another shot put victory with a distance of 15.38m, as well as a javelin victory with a throw of 47.05m. In his first time tossing the discus in an outdoor season since 2019, senior Chudi Ikpeazu didn’t show any signs of rust, winning the event with a distance of 56.27m, which Dolan described as being amongst the best in Penn history.

In the track events, Penn won each of the events 800m and down. A few breakout performances that Dolan pointed out were junior Weston Wendt, who had one of his best 100m races at Penn with a 10.91 time, sophomore Emerson Douds, who won the 200m in 21.64 seconds, and sophomore Robbie Ruppel, who won the 400m with a 49.01 time.

Penn’s own Quaker Invitational marked the first time this season that the Red and Blue contested the steeplechase. Both sophomore Michael Keehan and freshman Oliver Stewart competed in the event for the first time, with each breaking nine minutes. Dolan described their performances as being great for their first time doing it. Keehan won the 3000m event, netting an 8:54.43 finish to secure the ninth-best time in program history.

After a grueling offseason that involved Penn’s track and field athletes training on the Philly streets and at times struggling to find a gym, their success this weekend on the track and in the field events comes as a nice reprieve.

“It’s been a really weird season,” Rizek said. “I think the biggest thing has been just the support from all of our teammates, and all of our coaches and family and friends this season, just trying to put together something worth doing. I feel like the sacrifices we made definitely paid off.”

The Quakers will be in action again this upcoming weekend at the Philadelphia Metropolitan Collegiate Invitational, where Penn will run some relay events for the first time this season in addition to a full complement of individual events.

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