PHILADELPHIA – When James Pipkins II took over as the interim head coach of the Felician University women's track & field team in February and began to analyze the Golden Falcons' talent, he identified the 4x100-meter relay as an event in which his crop of young sprinters could have immediate success.
Several obstacles arose, including a snowed-out meet, injuries, and struggles with handoffs. But his relay squad of three freshmen and one first-year sophomore received positive affirmation earlier this month when it learned it had qualified for the Penn Relays.
The Penn Relays, hosted by the University of Pennsylvania at Franklin Field, is the oldest and largest track & field competition in the United States. The 124th running, in a three-day festival Thursday through Saturday, is expected to draw athletes from more than 200 colleges and 1,000 high schools, plus professionals.
The Golden Falcons' 4x100 team competed on Thursday. Sophomore Jazlyn Pipkins (Paris, Texas/Paris) (niece of the coach) ran the opening leg, and was followed, in order, by freshmen Aasiyah Alston (Old Bridge, N.J./Old Bridge), Shahiana Odies (Vauxhall, N.J./Benedictine Academy) and Neuchatel King (Atco, N.J./Hammonton).
"It was breathtaking, but exciting," said Jazlyn Pipkins on first walking into Franklin Field and experiencing the vastness of the crowd and the event. "The feeling just made me hyped to want to run."
The Felician foursome turned in a time of 51.88 seconds, breaking the program record for the third time this season. The Golden Falcons were last in their eight-team heat, however, and placed 63rd out of 71 teams overall. The younger Pipkins, a team quad-captain, thinks that the relay group has yet to reach its potential.
"Breaking the record is a nice accomplishment, and it feels good," she said. "But the fact that we had that time and we still fumbled handoffs made us feel more confident for our conference meet. If we can compete and do OK in front of that big a crowd, then we can definitely do well in our regular meets."
Felician has its last tune-up for the May 6 Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference Championship meet when it sends a full squad to the Lions' Invitational, hosted by TCNJ, on Friday and Saturday.