Big-time invitation not so big

It’s a date everyone undoubtedly circles when the outdoor track and field schedule is released.Penn Relays – Philadelphia’s 112-year-old, three-day, track and field extravaganza – officially begins today. Temple’s track and field team will arrive at Penn’s Franklin Field Thursday to participate in the invitational.A number of the Owls’ performers acknowledged the magnitude of the event, with its maximum-capacity crowd and overflowing list of participating schools. The event includes participants ranging in skill from potential Olympic qualifiers to elementary school students.They also know that if they have a great showing at Penn Relays, their performances will be talked about for years to come.”Anyone from this area and anyone involved in track and field understands that it is a showcase and a privilege to be a part of,” coach Stefanie Scalessa said.But for all of its pageantry and significance, Penn Relays have no excited the track and field team, at least when compared to other upcoming meets on the Owls’ schedule.This is because some of the Owls will not participate, either because they failed to qualify for their respective events or because they are injured.Injuries have plagued the team this season and several sprinters have been “shut down” in recent weeks because of ailments, according to Scalessa.”It’s going to be a challenge to see how we’re going to get out there and compete.”Decreased enthusiasm for Penn Relays can be traced to it being an annual experience for a great deal of the track and field team’s performers.Junior sprinter Tynisha Gardner, a Philadelphia native, has participated in Penn Relays since her grade-school days. She said she could remember her earliest experiences at the meet.”It brought excitement to me because I was always in it, and I felt that I was going to do my best at all times,” Gardner said. “It’s like an adrenaline rush when you’re getting ready [because] you are usually warming up through the crowd.”Gardner said she looks forward to meeting some of the best athletes in the country while competing at Penn Relays.A member in the women’s 4×400 meter relay team, Gardner said she is prepared to finish the season strong despite sustaining a hamstring injury.”I’m not going to be 100 percent but I know that I’m capable of running through pain, if there is any pain at all,” she said.The men’s 4x800m relay team that includes freshmen Mitch Stroh and Jason Sullivan, sophomore Anthony DeJesus and senior Matt Kobialka will compete at Penn Relays. Scalessa said the relay team is “probably going to be one of the better entries that we’ve had in a long time.”Kobialka ran a season-best time of 1:57.42 in the 800m at the Duke Invitational with his teammates Sullivan, DeJesus and Stroh finishing directly behind him in the same event. Each runner registered a time under 1:58.Sophomore Andrew Fries, who has finished in the top 10 for javelin three times this season, said that competing against the best athletes at Penn Relays makes him throw better.Although he wants to do well at Penn Relays, Fries said he would rather have his best performance during the Atlantic Ten Conference Championship, scheduled for May 5-6 in Charlotte, N.C.Fries had a season-best throw of 185 feet, 9 inches at the Duke Invitational earlier this month and has approached the standards for qualifying at the Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes in America.He said his goal is to qualify for the NCAA East Regional and break the school record of 241 feet in the javelin. He completed his career best throw of 193 feet, 2 inches last season, and looks to improve on his distance at Penn Relays.Unlike some of his teammates, Kobialka, who has only been to Penn Relays once, is excited about the meet. He admitted that the large crowd at the meet will make him nervous.”It’s so different than every other track meet,” Kobialka said. “The crowd and the energy that’s there make it completely different from anything else.””You feel like a minor celebrity. If you’re running … it’s like [it’s] your 15 seconds of fame.”Tyson McCloud can be reached at

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