Two is company for the Quakers this weekend as a duo of track and field stars head to the west coast for the NCAA Championships.
Rising sophomore distance runner Thomas Awad and rising senior high jumper Maalik Reynolds will represent the Red and Blue as they compete on the national stage for the men’s track and field team.
And this isn’t Reynolds’s first trip to the rodeo. The rising senior, a four-time Heptagonal Champion and school record-holder for both indoor and outdoor high jump, competed in the NCAA Finals in both of his previous years at Penn in addition to competing at the Olympic Trials last year.
Awad, however, is making his collegiate debut. The freshman is looking forward to joining the ranks of track and field stars like Reynolds.
“It feels good that I know I’m in real good company since Maalik’s been there two times already and he’s gone to the Olympic Trials,” Awad said. “I know it’s a big honor to get there, being able to race against all the top guys in the country … it’s an exclusive group to be a part of so I’m real excited about it.”
During the NCAA East Preliminary Round at the end of May, Reynolds may not have even jumped to his full potential. As one of only four jumpers to clear 2.17 meters (7 feet, 1.5 inches), he secured his place in the finals without the need to raise the bar any further.
On the other hand, Awad finished in sixth place in his heat — just outside the top five guaranteed championship slots. But with a time of 14:04.24, he blew the second heat out of the water and was able to secure a spot in the finals.
“It was a little nerve-wracking I guess,” Awad say. “During the race when we had 400 to go, I knew I wasn’t going to get one of the auto spots but I figured, I just got to finish as high as I can in the race and hope for the best.
“I just wanted to put myself in a position where I had a chance to go out to Oregon … I wish I got one of those automatic spots, I would have felt a little better, but I’m happy that I’m going so I’ll take what I can get.”
Despite not procuring an automatic spot at first, Awad’s time was still the third-fastest time in Penn history.
“[I’m] really just following coach Dolan’s training plan,” he said. “I’ve just been doing my easy runs at a decent pace, doing the workouts well, doing the long runs, and just following [Dolan’s] training plans.”
Not only is it Awad’s first season with the Quakers, but it is coach Steve Dolan’s as well, coming off a successful run at Princeton and the 2012 London Olympics.
It’s been 10 years since a Penn athlete has taken home a national title in outdoor track and field — not since 2003, when Sam Burley and Brian Chaput won their titles in the 800-meter and javelin throw, respectively.
Reynolds will compete in the high jump on Friday night before Awad competes in the 5,000-meter race on Saturday in the finals of the 2013 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.