Isabella Whittaker Wins All-America Honorable Mention at NCAA Track and Field Championships
After an intense qualifying process, Isabella Whittaker represented Penn at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships, earning herself a Honorable mention All-America.
The championship process began with two preliminaries: the Eastern region preliminaries and the Western region preliminaries. A total of 48 student athletes per event were accepted to each tournament based on their best performance of the season. The Red and Blue sent 10 athletes, five women and five men, in the Eastern Region preliminaries, which took place May 26-29 at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.
On the women’s side, senior captain Camille Dickson competed in the long jump, junior Tamara Grahovac in the triple jump, junior Claire Moreau in the high jump, junior Haley Rizek in the 400m hurdles and rookie Isabella Whittaker in the 400m. On the men’s side, junior Noah Carey and senior captain Ryan Renken competed in the 5,000m, junior William Hare and runner-up Michael Keehan in the 3,000m steeplechase, and senior Anthony Russo in the 10,000m.
Athletes obtained their qualifying scores in various events throughout the track and field season. Renken and Carey earned their qualifying times at the Penn Challenge, the first meeting of the season on March 27. Moreau secured his place at the TCNJ Last Chance meeting, the last meeting of the season on May 13.
Dickson, Rizek, Keehan, Hare and Russo all had their best times at the Philadelphia Metropolitan Collegiate Invitational in late April. Dickson’s qualifying distance of 6.24 meters is the program record for the long jump. Whittaker and Grahovac secured their spots thanks to their performance at the Penn Twilight meet on May 1. In this meeting, Whittaker clocked 52.50. As well as being his qualifying score, this time also had the honor of being Penn’s 400m program record.
Whittaker held the 13th seed in the 400m, the highest ranking of any of these Penn track athletes in their respective events. Russo was not far behind, with a 15th qualifying seed in the 10,000m.
The top 12 competitors from each individual event in Jacksonville were then accepted into the championship competition. Although Whittaker was the only Penn athlete to qualify, the Quakers fought a fair fight. Russo scored 17th, placing him just four spots from qualifying for the championship. Dickson finished in 20th place, Grahovac in 42nd, Moreau in 30th, Rizek in 38th, Carey in 23rd, Renken in 33rd and Keehan in 36th.
Whittaker was 11th with a time of 51.92. It was a new personal best and best program score, breaking his previous program record of 52.50. Her time was only the third by a woman in Ivy-League history to set a mark of under 52 seconds in the 400m. She was one of four Ivy League students to pass the championship preliminaries.
At the tournament, hosted by the University of Oregon on June 10, she ran in the second of three innings. Its time to 53.42 placed her in 24th place, not enough to qualify for the final held on Saturday. As a freshman, this was Whittaker’s first time competing in a national tournament while representing the Quakers, and it prepares her to compete in more high profile tournaments for Penn in the future.