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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Senior Victoria Strickland advanced to the NCAA Quarterfinals in dramatic fashion on Thursday night at the NCAA East Preliminary Round in Jacksonville, Fla. That capped a busy day for the University of Pennsylvania women's track and field team at Hodges Stadium where senior Paige Madison capped a stellar career and junior Morgan Wheeler also finished the best season of her career.
Strickland ran in the opening heat of the NCAA First Round in the 800 meters. She posted her best time of the season with a finish of 2:08.02 and placed sixth. Only the top three in each of the six heats automatically advance to the NCAA Quarterfinals. Once those 18 spots are taken, the next nine-best times round out the field of 27 in the next round of the NCAA Championships.
Strickland waited through the next five heats to see if her time ranked among the final nine spots up for grabs. After the first five heats, Strickland was holding on to the ninth and final quarterfinal berth. As the sixth heat concluded, the first three automatic qualifiers crossed the finish and the next runner would determine Strickland's fate. It was too close to call with the naked eye and the Penn captain had to wait for the scoreboard - which finally flashed 2:08.11. Strickland was officially an NCAA quarterfinalist for the second straight year in the event - by nine-hundreths of a second. She will compete for a spot in the NCAA Semifinals on Friday night at 7:15 p.m.
In the first round of the NCAA Championships in the 400-meter hurdles, Madison finished in 1:01.15. That was just a little more than a second away from advancing to Friday's NCAA Quarterfinals. The school record holder in the event, Madison was eighth in her heat and 41st overall. The Ann Arbor, Mich., native and seven-time All-Ivy honoree is the only woman in Penn history to break 60 seconds in the event and would have had to duplicate that feat again to advance.
Madison also finishes her career as the owner of three school records and is second all-time in the indoor 400 meters. The two-time NCAA qualifier and three-time All-East recipient was also one of Penn's most decorated athletes off the track. She was named to the Academic All-Ivy team in 2010 and to the Academic All-Area team by the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2011. She was also selected as the University's prestigious Fathers' Award winner in April.
Wheeler made her second straight appearance in the javelin at the NCAA East Preliminary Round. Her first throw landed at 37.24 meters (123 feet, 2 inches). At the time, that placed her just outside the top 12 qualifying marks for the NCAA Finals. But after two fouls, Wheeler finished 44th overall. It capped a season that saw the Poestenkill, N.Y., native move into fourth place all-time at Penn in the event.
Two other Quakers are set to compete on Friday. Junior Jillian Hart will represent the Red and Blue in the pole vault beginning at 11 a.m., while senior Kristen Judge is set to make her NCAA Championships debut in the high jump at 5 p.m.
In each event, the top 48 marks qualified for the NCAA Preliminary Rounds. The top 24-27 finishers in the first round will advance to the quarterfinals where the top 12 then advance to compete in the semifinals and finals of the NCAA Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, June 7-9.
The NCAA Championship meet extends over two weekends in a three-week span at three different sites. The first weekend is now known as the NCAA Preliminary Round and is broken up into two different sites - East (Jacksonville, Fla.) and West (Austin, Texas), which host the NCAA first round and quarterfinal round in each event as well as some of the NCAA semifinals in the field events.