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Ratcliffe wins hammer throw, McLean places second in triple jump as part of strong Princeton showing at Penn Relays

At the Penn Relays “carnival” on Franklin Field, Princeton track sophomore Julia Ratcliffe dominated the hammer throw competition with a distance of 65.89 meters, over 3 full meters more than any other competitor. Not only did this distance grant her the championship, but it was also the third-best throw in Penn Relays history.

“It wasn’t as far as I’ve thrown previously, but it was a solid series,” Ratcliffe said. “It was a good meet to consolidate my training outside of Princeton and prove to myself that I could still throw well.”

She also commented on the amazing experience. The throwing area was away from the track, which she said helped her feel relaxed. The atmosphere was one of friendly competition.

“I knew all but one of the competitors so it was like a big group of friends getting together and having a throw,” Ratcliffe said. “It was a bunch of girls supporting each other and cheering for each other and it makes it so much more fun. You know what their PR’s [personal records] are so you can get excited for them when they throw a PR. When a friend of yours throws a PR it makes you want to throw one as well.”

Other strong performances on the women’s team included the 4x800m relay team placing fifth overall, senior captain Imani Oliver placing tenth in the triple jump, freshman Lizzie Bird finishing as the top collegiate runner in the steeplechase, and freshman Megan Curham placing fifth in the 3K.

“Relays are difficult to run, because it is hard to ask all four girls to show up on their game for the same race, but we each ran close to, if not matching, our season best times to place fifth,” said sophomore Meghan McMullin, who led off the 4×800 m relay.

“[Saturday’s] race, being that it was the college women’s Championship of America, was really incredible and unlike the other two times I’ve raced [at Penn Relays]. As soon as I turned the corner to walk into the track’s paddock area, I had to smile to myself because usually I’m one of the 50,000 fans looking down from the top tier, not all spiked up, in my buns, in lane 3. I definitely think that the awesome environment made us race well, as a unit,” she added.

Freshman Lizzie Bird was the top collegiate finisher in her second-ever steeplechase run.

“I was a late entry but then my time was better than the best collegiate race, so although I was the best collegiate runner I didn’t technically win the championship,” she explained. “[My first steeplechase] was just a few weeks ago. I’ve always done mid-distance and my coach was like why don’t you try steeple and I really enjoyed it! Maybe I’ve found my race! I hope I go back next year and win properly.”

This year, the women’s team also fielded the first shuttle hurdle relay team since 1991, although the team was unfortunately disqualified on some racing technicalities.

“We ran the event because we had four hurdlers on the team that could run sub-15 so we could put together a decent relay,” said sophomore Taylor Morgan, one of the participants. Although she was disappointed by the disqualification, she still enjoyed the experience. “Just being at Penn Relays in general, even separate from how you compete, is amazing.”

On the men’s side, senior Damon McLean placed second in the triple jump with a distance of 16.04 m, barely losing the title to Penn State’s Steve Waithe with a distance of 16.22 m.

“Penn Relays is always something that is fun for me because I’m Jamaican and there are a lot of Jamaicans there,” said McLean. “This year I really wanted to win, I came in as the top seed, but with senior thesis there’s a lot of experience this year with delayed gratification. I was still really happy because this was one of my best competitions, and if I had to lose this would be how I would want to since I gave it my all.”

Princeton had an all-around strong showing, including junior Eddie Owens placing fifth in the men’s championship steeplechase, junior Adam Bragg placing seventh in the championship pole vault, the men’s 4x400m relay placing first in the heptagonal division and seventh in the IC4A division and sophomore Jake Scinto placing fourth in the eastern long jump.

Owens is an associate sports editor for The Daily Princetonian.

“I’d run the steeple a few weeks ago at Stanford and went out a little hard and led but then didn’t finish up as hard as I’d like to. I planned with Coach [Vigilante] that I would go out conservatively and he told me I should make sure I had the fastest last [kilometer] of a steeple I’ve ever run. I went out and did just that,” Owens said.

“Jumping in front of 50,000 people is an unbelievable experience,” Bragg said. “When everybody is watching you, you get a little bit more adrenaline. It places more importance on what you’re doing.”

“I was looking to put up a higher mark,” he adds. “I’ve been working with my coach on changing some things up as far as my run but it’s definitely coming together. I’m looking forward to Heps and seeing how everyone does there.”

Senior captain Tom Hopkins was one of the runners in the 4×400 m relay. In the heptagonal race, the team won with their best time this season, 3:12.75 to beat Brown. Although Cornell is normally their toughest competition within the Ivy League, Cornell’s normal anchor for the 4x400m race, Bruno Hortelano-Roig, opted to run on the team’s Sprint Medley Relay later that day.

“It’s obviously a team effort and it’s about staying in the race and competing,” Hopkins said. “We got off to a good start and we had a good position throughout the race.”

His leg of the race was a battle. “We were fighting the entire leg, elbowing each other the first 150 meters or so,” he said. After the first half, Hopkins pulled away to leave his competitor in the dust, finishing strong.

In the IC4A 4x400m race, Princeton had to deal with tough conditions as they fought for their seventh place achievement. “We actually had the second slowest seed time because we just by a hair made this final. We were in lane 2, and on this track that means something. The way Franklin Field is set up is a weird configuration, so lane 1 is technically lane 5,” Hopkins said.

Since after the first part of the second leg, the runners must break into the first lane, freshman Bryant Switzer had the tough task of pushing his way from lane 2 to what was effectively lane 5. The congestion made the move over difficult, unfortunately losing some valuable time. Despite that challenge, the team ran the second-best time of its year.

“[The Penn Relays races] laid the groundwork for what we need to do at Heps. We’re trying to hit that regionals mark which is around 3:10 so drop 2 seconds and we’re there,” Hopkins said. “It’s such a fun, energizing event with 50,000 people screaming, some yelling your name. It doesn’t really mean too much. Given that we ran as fast as we ran here, it’s definitely something to be proud about,” he added.

The men also had a 4x800m relay that competed in the Championship of America, placing eleventh. While still a good accomplishment, this race did not go as well as the team had hoped.

“Something we struggled with was our finishes, so we really need to work on putting the whole race together instead of just part of the race,” says senior Michael Williams. “It wasn’t the best race, but we want to put that behind us and move on to the next race which is Heps.”

The team hopes to build on these experiences in the next two weeks as they train for the Ivy League Heptagonal competition.

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