Rutgers keens to come together, execute at Penn Relays
As a pair of legs in perpetual revolution zooms down the track with another teammate just a few feet ahead, an arm extends forward offering a shiny black baton as an open hand reaches back — the essential hand-off.
When it comes to relays, the milliseconds during which baton exchanges occur are often what separates those with gold slung around their necks and those with heads slumped in defeat.
The Rutgers women’s track and field team ventures to Philadelphia, Pa., this weekend for Penn Relays — and its main focus has been perfecting the baton hand-off within the relay squads.
The Scarlet Knights are keen on the significance of this technicality.
“That’s pretty much what makes the relay the relay,” freshman sprinter Bria Saunders said of the exchanges. “As long as we get the passes down, the speed is there. Since it’s a relay meet we just want everyone to come together healthy and be able to get the stick onto the next person without any problems.”
Rutgers undoubtedly has the training and the talent, but the execution has been its greatest struggle.
Technical details have been a key concentration for the Knights throughout the season, but the emphasis has increased during practices leading up to this weekend.
“We have a lot of relays running, so we’re going to focus on the hand offs and the exchange zone and make sure we get clean passes off for the relays,” said head coach James Robinson. “It’s a big event. It’s a huge relay carnival, it's very fun, so we’re looking forward to seeing kids perform.”
Rutgers will have three relays run this weekend. The 4x100-meter relay team of Saunders, senior Jillian Grant and juniors Alayna Famble and Kaprice James will make their quartet debut on Thursday.
On Friday, Saunders, Grant and James will run again with the addition of freshman Imani Beauliere for the 4x200-meter relay. Saturday, senior Felicia O’Donnell will be joined by sophomores Sarah Robbie and Kaitlyn Bedard, along with freshman Deanna DiLandro for the 4x800-meter relay.
Though these squad combinations are newly settled on, the Knights are confident in their ability to capture success based on the foundation of their preparation from not only this week, but throughout the season.
“We’ve been trying out different relays for the past invitational meets and working on different passes and doing different combinations of people, so we’ve basically been preparing since outdoor started,” Saunders said. “This is a new combination we’re trying that we haven’t run yet, but I know it’s going to bring a lot of success.”
With the Penn Relays being a championship meet, Rutgers has three ultimate goals — make it to the finals, set personal records and clock-in qualifying times for championships later in the season.
The uniqueness of track relays lies in the merger of the individual and team aspects of the sport. Not only will the athletes in these three relay squads be running for themselves — they will be running for their teammates as well.
“It’s a different mentality. You have to run for your team, so it’s more of a push,” Famble said. “You know, you’re motivated for yourself. But when you have three other people, you have to consider when you’re running. It’s definitely a lot more motivating.”
Outside of the relays, there are three Knights that will compete in individual events.
Junior Tacquaya Tobias will look to set a season best in the long jump on Thursday.
On Friday, sophomore Bryanna Grant will represent Rutgers in the triple jump and freshman Stacey Anning will compete in the javelin. Both Knights took home the titles in their respective events with their season debuts at the Bulls Invitational in March.
While Rutgers has been trying to adjust to the demands of Big Ten competition, the task is made increasingly more difficult with the youth on the roster — 11 juniors and seniors to counter 22 freshman and sophomores, not including several injured and red-shirted athletes.
Though it has been a cumbersome challenge to be consistently successful this season, the Knights plan to use their experiences to their advantage.
“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs … so we kind of just have to go out there and use what happened in the past at the past few meets as kind of a stepping-stone,” Saunders said. “We need to put that behind us and move forward, and use it as motivation to do better.”
Going into this next contest, Rutgers looks to qualify on the opportunity to reach a higher level of performance and establish itself as a strong, resilient team.
In terms of reaching their goals this weekend, the Knights are soundly optimistic.
“I really think that we will (personal record),” Famble said. “At Penn Relays there’s so much energy … It’s such a fun meet, so hopefully we have fun and perform well.”
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