Penn freshman track and field star Mike Monroe loves to jump. And Mike Monroe can jump pretty damn high.
This weekend, the young phenom will make his Penn Relays debut in the 121st running of the annual event. His dad, who has never seen Monroe compete at the collegiate level, will make the trip up from South Carolina to watch his son take on the nation’s best.
As if that wasn’t enough to put on the shoulders of one of the most highly recruited freshman high jumpers, Monroe will also be competing in the shadow of Maalik Reynolds. Reynolds, who graduated in 2014, won the Penn Relays twice in Monroe’s event during his tenure with the Red and Blue. He also holds six All-American titles to his name.
“[Monroe’s] got big shoes to fill,” jumps coach Joe Klim said. “I think he felt like there was a lot of pressure.”
For many rookies, a setting like this could cause them to tremor. But Monroe shook out his nerves early on in the season, and the ferocious competitor has enjoyed an abundance of successes ever since.
Perhaps it’s the joy jumping brings him that has allowed him to cast away the weight of the expectations.
“He loves high jump,” junior high jumper and co-captain Thomas Pitt said of his teammate. “And I think he’s the most passionate about his event on the entire team, which is what you need to be good at track.”
His love is not just felt by his teammates. It radiates brightly, and Klim has taken notice.
“He’s the most excitable person I’ve ever coached,” Klim said with a smile. “He is so happy to be jumping.”
But bliss without drive is often not enough to yield accomplishment. For Monroe, his unique and often unparalleled competitiveness has allowed him to vault into a position from which he will be competing for an individual title on Saturday.
“In the beginning [of his career] you could tell he was kind of nervous just coming to practice and competing against me,” Pitt said.
But his resolve quickly evened the playing field between the two teammates.
At the Indoor Heptagonal Championships this winter, Monroe won the high jump title, edging out Pitt to get the victory.
“The thing is he loves competition,” Pitt added.
The clash between the two Quakers will be a sight to watch as they both aim to jump 7-foot-2 and battle for position amongst the top five in the Penn Relays field.
“He and I are gonna push each other along with the rest of the competition, and that’s gonna be pretty exciting,” Pitt proclaimed.
Klim is confident that his young stud will pull through under the stress.
“He’s going to rise to the competition. He’s going to rise to the crowd. He’s going to rise because he’s wearing a Penn uniform,” his coach noted.
An added bonus is that Monroe is 100 percent dialed in.
“He is hype,” Pitt said. “He is watching every possible video there is on high jump.”
Other thoughts have taken a backseat this week for Monroe, who is eager to make his inaugural Penn Relays appearance.
“This whole week is super exciting,” Monroe said before admitting, “it’s all I can really think about.”
The prospective psychology major has not yet been the focal point of the media’s coverage and is not used to being in the spotlight. But if Monroe performs to both his own and his coach’s expectations, his name will begin to reverberate throughout the track and field community as a force to be reckoned with when the NCAA Championships commence.
One thing is for sure: Monroe’s smiling face will be a fixture of the Relays for years to come as he tackles the expectations that lie before him.
For now, though, Monroe can sit back and soak it all in.
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