Track and field may be a team sport, but it was the extra efforts of several individuals that propelled Penn State to a quality season.
The blue and white had a well-balanced squad with star power both on the rubber and in the field.
In its first outdoor meet of the season, the Penn Invite, coach John Gondak’s team made a statement with strong performances from the throwers.
Senior Madison Smith topped the javelin throw, and junior Piper Klinger took first in the discus throw, while senior Gianna Rao finished second in the hammer throw.
The jumpers picked up right where the throwers left off the following weekend in Orlando, Florida.
Indoor Big Ten runner-up Katie Jones took first in the pole vault after clearing 4.00 meters.
Fellow senior Breana Gambrell managed to etch her name into the record books not once, but twice. First, she won the long jump with a 6.24-meter performance, eighth best in program history, and she followed it up with a triple jump of 12.57 meters, the ninth best in program history.
Broken records became a recurring theme in 2022 for the Nittany Lions, and Jones got in on the action during the Bison Outdoor Challenge.
After clearing 4.28 meters, Jones held both the indoor and outdoor pole vault record for Penn State — the latter of which lasted just a week. The Williamsport, Pennsylvania, native continued to dominate, once again breaking the school record with a 4.31-meter leap in the Virginia Challenge.
Junior thrower Mallory Kauffman also stayed consistent throughout the season, making several podium appearances in the discus and shot put throws.
With a 17.11-meter shot put throw in the Virginia Challenge, Kauffman moved into second all time on the Penn State leaderboards.
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New coach Katie Schumacher-Cawley picked up a piece for the future Sunday.
Shifting focus to the runners, it’s impossible to ignore Yasmin Brooks’ outstanding senior season.
The Indoor All-Big Ten first-team sprinter started her outdoor season at the Knights Invite, placing third in the 100-meter hurdles.
Brooks stayed consistent on the podium, finishing third at the Florida Relays and first at the Duke Invitational, clocking a building record in the process. Penn State’s top hurdler continued her form by winning the 100-meter hurdles and placing third in the 400-meter hurdles at the Virginia Challenge.
Despite Brooks’ success in short-distance events, the longer races proved to be the Nittany Lions’ speciality.
Gondak’s team had a plethora of strong returning athletes, but the most dominant group was the middle-distance runners.
Graduate student Victoria Tachinski and senior Rachel Gearing made a living on the podium all season, while sophomores Madaline Ullom and Victoria Vanriele flashed potential of their own.
Those four combined for a program-record time in the 4×800-meter relay during the Penn Relays. Their time of 8:24.49 surpassed the previous record by a full second.
All of those invitationals were simply warmups for the true challenge: the Big Ten Championships in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Like it had all season, Penn State continued to perform well.
The blue and white earned its first medal in the 10,000-meter run, as sophomore Sophia Toti used a late kick to bypass runners down the stretch and claim silver. This was Toti’s first attempt at the event — though likely not the last after the standout performance.
Ullom and Gearing each earned bronze medals in middle-distance events, competing in the 1500 meters and 800 meters, respectively.
Brooks made headlines in the 100-meter hurdles, finishing with a blistering 12.99 en route to the Big Ten crown.
It was a successful conference championship weekend for the women’s team, which scored 82.5 total points, good for fourth overall.
The final hurdle of the season was the Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Oregon, where Brooks, Gearing, Kauffman, Smith and Tachinski had a chance to bring a medal back to Happy Valley.
None of Penn State’s representatives qualified for the finals, though, with the best result being Smith’s 17th-place finish in the javelin throw.
Sending five athletes to the competition is an achievement for the team, which should get even better in 2023.
Outside of a few key upperclassmen like Smith and Tachinski, Penn State is expected to retain much of its talent for next season.
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