Rather than walk at Commencement at Dominican University of California May 13, business school graduate Wakilli Bennett ’23 decided to run 400 miles away.
Wakilli had two reasons:
1) It was his last chance to qualify at Azusa Pacific University for the NCAA Division II Men’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Pueblo, CO May 25-27.
2) He will have a second chance to walk at Commencement at Dominican once he completes Dominican’s MBA program in 2025.
Wakilli, who in July became the first Penguin student-athlete to be named a 2023 NCAA Division II All-Academic Athlete by the USTFCCCA, intends to stick around and finish what he started at Dominican after transferring from Menlo College in 2022.
“It just all worked out perfectly for me,” he says.
In his third semester at Dominican, Wakilli was interning with the Marin Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Dominican while completing his business concentration in management degree and leading the Penguins’ two-year-old track and field program. At the Pacific West Conference championships on April 29, Wakilli placed second out of 16 runners in the 100-meters sprint with a time of 10.42 seconds and placed fifth in the 200-meter event with a time of 21.28 seconds. He scored 12 of Dominican’s 21 team points in the conference.
“He is a quiet and very focused individual with some amazing goals,” says Penguins track and field and cross country head coach Teressa DiPerna. “His training work ethic is incredible. He is a great team role model and captain for our team and the entire team rallies behind his achievements.”
Wakilli says he knew he could run fast from the time he had recess at kindergarten and “it was like a game of tag, and no one was catching me.” He graduated from West Campus High School in Sacramento and decided to attend Menlo College and run track there. That didn’t work out as Wakilli had hoped, so he went looking for new coaches about the same time Dominican assistant track and field coach Matt Ilarina was searching for sprinters to join the Penguins’ brand-new track and field program in Dominican Athletics.
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“The timing was ideal,” Wakilli says. “Coach Matt told me what he wanted to do with me and where we could go to get to nationals. He just seemed like he was a really cool dude. He is a really cool dude.”
Wakilli then investigated the Barowsky School of Business and was impressed with its reputation and the fact that it recently received AACSB Accreditation. After Wakilli had an introductory Zoom call with Dr. Christopher Leeds, retiring Professor of Management and Dominican Faculty Athletic Representative, he was convinced that Dominican was the best place for him and soon after joined Leeds’ Business Comm class. Wakilli also thrived in a leadership class taught by Dr. Thomas Cavanagh and a strategic management class with Dr. Jacob Massoud, who happens to be the MBA program director at Dominican.
Figuring he had an extra year of NCAA athletic eligibility because of COVID-19, Wakilli was inspired to pursue his MBA.
“Why wouldn’t I want to be here and not get my MBA and continue my education?” he says. “Why not do it now and not later?”
In the meantime, Wakilli was focused on running faster during workouts at nearby San Rafael High School’s track. In his first meet with the Penguins in April of 2022, Wakilli’s time in the 100-meters was 10.81. However, remarkably, he shaved more than five tenths of a second off the time since being at Dominican.
In a preliminary heat on May 12 at the APU Franson Last Chance Meet, Wakilli posted a personal best time of 10.36 in the 100 meters to place fifth out of 46 runners. The next day, he placed sixth in the 100 meters finals and recorded a time of 21.22 in the 200 meters to place fifth out of 62 competitors.
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To qualify for the NCAA Division II meet, Wakilli would have needed to have posted a time among the top 20 D2 sprinters nationally. He climbed as high as 27th in the country and just fell short, but his effort was nonetheless impressive.
“Being the captain of the team is important as it sets an example for the team to follow,” Wakilli says.
His team and his teammates have become a source of support and friendship for Wakilli.
“I wish I had been here sooner,” he says.
While working on his MBA Wakilli will continue to compete for the Penguins as a graduate student and eventually apply his business skills to a full-time job. His part-time job as a sales associate at a local sporting goods store and his internship with Marin SBDC have been giving him real-world business experience. Dominican is helping him get to the finish line of his higher education.
“Dominican’s exceeded my expectations,” Wakilli says. “I just wish there were more track and field facilities on campus. Besides that, everyone is super nice here compared to Menlo. Everyone’s great. I have more friends here. It’s been a unique experience.”