The Neenah High School girls’ 3,200-meter relay team had plenty of attractions to attend to when making the trip to Philadelphia this past week for the Penn Relays.
Sight-seeing excursions to Valley Forge and the Liberty Bell were interesting points of the trip for the Rockets’ quartet of Alison Parker, Claire Knaus, Jennifer Parker and Jessica Parker.
But the excitement of going against the best competition the nation has to offer in front of tens of thousands of fans was the ultimate highlight for the state’s record holder in the event.
The two-time defending state champion Rockets ran a qualifying time of 9:24.89 in Thursday’s preliminaries to advance to Friday’s finals, where they finished 12th with a time of 9:19.87.
Columbia High School out of Maplewood, N.J., was the top finisher with a time of 8:56.37.
“It was a real interesting experience because our (4×800) team hasn’t been tested before,” Knaus, a senior, said. “To go into a venue where we knew there would be great competition was kind of nerve-wracking. We didn’t know what was going to happen.”
The Penn Relays is the oldest and largest track and field competition in the United States. It has been held annually since 1895 by the University of Pennsylvania at Franklin Field. The nation’s best competitors at all levels make the trek to Philadelphia for the event, which regularly attracts 15,000 or more athletes.
Neenah’s time was a bit off its state record time of 9:00.42 set in last June’s WIAA state track meet in La Crosse, but the Rockets are just nearing the mid-point of their track season and expect that time to improve in the coming weeks.
But running in front of the massive crowd at Franklin Field — attendance often runs more than 100,000 for the final three days — was surreal for senior Alison Parker.
“It was probably the coolest experience I’ve had the past four years in track,” she said. “It was the biggest race. There were Olympians there and the stadium is huge. I mean, you think the stadium at state track is huge, but you get to the Penn Relays and there were 30,000 people in the stands. It was crazy.”
The slow start to the spring season has put the Rockets a bit behind, but Alison Parker says that she and her teammates are running at right around the same pace that they had last season at this time.
Knaus agreed and added that she feels they have a shot at breaking their own state record.
“I think we would love to set that record even faster, if possible,” she said. “Last year, the weather was perfect, which helped us a lot. If we can get some speed workouts in next month, we have a great shot at going faster.”
St. Mary Central girls’ soccer: Wednesday, 7 p.m. Kelly Conn and Haley Thelen visit us on the big show to talk about their season and everything soccer at postcrescent.com.
Sydney Buss, Kimberly girls’ soccer: Thursday’s edition in print and online. Sydney talks about her standing as one of the top girls’ soccer players in the area, along with her favorites from athletes to the entertainment world.
Tweets of the week
“When a guy recognizes me as a good runner as I am stuffing my face with polito’s pizza #embarrassing.”— Kimberly track and field athlete Alexander Rink, @Rink928
“That awkward moment when our bus tries to wave to the baseball bus but they reject us #someonesangry.” St. Mary Central girls’ soccer player Leigh McGuirk, @leigh_mcguirkie
— Ricardo Arguello: 920-993-1000, ext. 558, or firstname.lastname@example.org; On Twitter @PCRicardo