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Penn Track & Field during Big Five Invitational on April 1. Credit: Samantha Turner

Even though the school year is over and graduation has come and gone, the seasons for some Penn athletes are not done yet. And for key members of Penn track & field, Memorial Day weekend marked a chance to prove their skill and speed on a national stage. 

Over the course of four days, 17 Quakers competed at the NCAA East Preliminaries in Jacksonville, Fla. And while for most, their season is over, six athletes advanced to NCAA Championships — held this year in Austin, Texas. 

The first athlete to qualify representing the Red and Blue was junior Scott Toney, who placed 12th in the pole vault. But according to coach Steve Dolan, the success began earlier in the day, when sophomore Scott Dochat competed in the hammer throw. 

Even though Dochat placed 30th with a recorded throw of 60.52 meters, Dolan said that he was competing despite a knee injury sustained at last month's Ivy League Heptagonal Championships. 

"He wore a brace and threw admirably, actually one of his best throws of the season, which is pretty amazing," Dolan said. "It was a really courageous effort by Scott, who wanted to compete at the NCAAs."

For the meet's second day, it was time for Penn's women to shine, with junior Isabella Whittaker and sophomore Bronwyn Patterson advancing to the final round in the 400m and 800m, respectively. Additionally, junior Maeve Stiles — who won the 10k at Ivy Heps — finished 16th in that event, narrowly missing the cut for the NCAA Championships. 

Only two Quakers competed on the meet's third day. One notable performance came from senior Michael Keehan — a captain for the team this year — who finished 21st overall in the 3,000m steeplechase. 

But it was on the meet's final day where the Quakers did most of their damage for the weekend. Neither Whittaker nor Patterson were able to advance to NCAA Championships individually, even though Whittaker came incredibly close: she placed 13th, and the top 12 qualified for Austin. 

However, Whittaker was on a Penn 4x400m relay team — alongside freshmen Moforehan Abinusawa and Christiana Nwachuku, and sophomore Jocelyn Niemiec — which ran the event in 3:34.93. Not only is this time second in program history, but it was also 10th overall at the meet — qualifying Penn for the national championships. 

Dolan praised Whittaker's ability both as a runner and a leader of the relay team, calling her "a key person for us as a junior that is a standout 400m runner." He continued: "I thought her leadership was actually super important, because we do have a fairly young team in the [4x400m relay]."

Dolan also spoke highly of the rest of the relay team, saying that "the rest of the runners did an excellent job ... really rising to the occasion, and it's so fun when it's a relay because you really count on each person ... and there's nothing more exciting than watching a relay team celebrate at the end because they know that they all did their part."

Beyond the excellence of the relay team, perhaps Penn's most impressive performance of the weekend also came on the final night. Junior Olivia Morganti set a program record for the women's 3,000m steeplechase, placing fifth overall and second in her heat. 

For Morganti, this culminates an incredibly successful year, excelling in multiple track events and even during cross country season in the fall. But as the year progressed, Dolan said that the steeplechase seemed like a good fit, especially based on Morganti's experience. Despite this, he still called the junior's performance "a big breakthrough," especially given her seeding headed into the event. 

Even though most of the Quakers who competed in Jacksonville do not have their tickets punched to Austin, Dolan still sees the weekend as a success overall for all the athletes. 

"The level of competition is so high at the NCAA Preliminary round," he said. "It's quite high level competition, so it's quite an honor."