McQuaide, a junior, is the first Greensburg Salem athlete to compete in the prestigious event at Philadelphia’s legendary Franklin Field.
The Penn Relays begin Thursday and run through Saturday at the University of Pennsylvania. Among the local competitors will be Fox Chapel’s Ethan Martin (3,000-meter run) and Colin Martin (3,000-meter run), and Ambridge’s India McCoy (high jump).
Not every athlete gets a chance to compete in the prestigious Penn Relays. Competitors must meet certain qualifying standards and be in the top 20 among applicants.
“When Coach (Jeremy) Lenzi called and told me the news, I was so excited,” McQuaide said Tuesday while competing in a meet at Hempfield. “I jumped up and down and screamed.”
McQuaide got the call because she has cleared 11 feet, 3 inches and was ranked in the Top 20. She cleared 11-3 outdoors in 2012 at Norwin and 11-3 indoors in 2013. The qualifying height is 11 feet.
“My goal is to clear 11-6 at the Penn Relays and then 12 feet,” McQuaide said. “I’d also like to qualify for the PIAA championships and place in the top eight.”
McQuaide cleared 11 feet and finished fourth behind Hempfield’s Lexi Masterson and Bridget Guy and McQuaide’s teammate, senior Cassidy Shepherd, in Tuesday’s meet. The trio all cleared 11-6.
Shepherd recently broke McQuaide’s school record.
The quiet McQuaide said competing at the Penn Relays will be special.
“I know realistically I probably won’t win,” McQuaide said. “I’d like to place.”
Lenzi added: “I’d like to see her clear 11-6, and that is definitely possible. From there, I want her to have a great experience and get some big-meet experience. The Penn Relays is a pinnacle for us.
“She’s a little nervous, but competing in the event will be good for her. We’re really, really excited about going. She deserves the invite, and it is representative of the work she has put in.”
Hempfield graduate Larissa Debich, now at Auburn, competed in the Penn Relays in 2011 and 2012, winning the event last year and taking fourth in 2011. Masterson also competed in 2012 and finished 15th.
Lenzi talked with Hempfield pole vault coach Matt Fox about what to expect.
“There is so much great competition for Courtney in (Westmoreland) County,” Lenzi said. “You have Cassidy, Lexi, Bridget and Norwin’s Kelsey Plecenik, some of the best jumpers in the state in our section. The county meet will be competitive.”
Lenzi and McQuaide will leave Thursday morning for Philadelphia, and McQuaide will compete at 1 p.m. They will drive home after the meet, so McQuaide can compete in the Westmoreland County Coaches’ Association track and field championships Saturday at Latrobe’s Memorial Stadium.
“Cassidy pushes me to do better,” McQuaide said of her teammate. “I look up to her because she does some things better than me.
“We’re actually close friends with all the girls in the county, and we cheer for each other. Everyone wants first, and everyone works pretty hard. We push each other.”
McQuaide began vaulting when she went out for track in eighth grade. One of her coaches asked her to try it because of her gymnastics background — she cleared 7 feet in her first meet.
From there, she was hooked. And Thursday, she will test herself against the best in the state.
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