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Penn pair seek national glory

Distance runner Leslie Kovach and high-jumper Maalik Reynolds will try to bring home the gold.

Penn high jumper Maalik Reynolds has soared as high as 7 feet, 5 3/4 inches. (Jonathan Tannenwald/
Penn high jumper Maalik Reynolds has soared as high as 7 feet, 5 3/4 inches. (Jonathan Tannenwald/ more

Distance runner Leslie Kovach said she arrived at Penn in the fall of 2009 just looking to get adjusted to women's college track. High-jumper Maalik Reynolds joined the Quaker men last fall with high expectations.

How far they both have come.

On Friday at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, Kovach and Reynolds will compete in the NCAA Men's and Women's Outdoor Track Championships.

"I just took it one day at a time," said Kovach, a sophomore who will compete in the 5,000-meter run. "A lot of it was training, and trying to get used to college running compared to high school running."

"I would have been disappointed if I didn't make it," said Reynolds, a native of Atlanta who was also recruited by scholarship schools such as Georgia Tech, Virginia, and Stanford.

A native of Irwin, Pa., Kovach is the indoor and outdoor record-holder in the 5,000 meters, and she automatically qualified for the championship meet by finishing among the top five in her heat at the NCAA East Preliminary Round on May 28.

Overall, she finished with a time of 16:16.16. That was about five seconds behind the school-record time she turned in at this year's Penn Relays.

No Penn woman has ever won an NCAA outdoor national title. Jesse Carlin (800) was the last Quaker woman to reach the finals, in 2008, and the only Penn outdoor women's all-American is Chris Lundy, who earned the distinction in the 3,000 meters in 1992.

"I don't want to put unnecessary pressure on myself," Kovach said. "I just want to go out and run fast. I think I can do under 16:00. I want to run fast, but I also want to enjoy and experience the NCAA atmosphere."

Reynolds, who was the Georgia state high school champion in his event, is a former basketball player who was prodded into trying high- jumping.

"My eighth-grade science teacher made me go out there," said Reynolds, who jumped 7 feet, 11/2 inches as a senior. "He thought I'd be good at it. It took about a year before I realized that I was pretty good at it."

Reynolds is the first Penn men's athlete to reach a final at the NCAAs since decathletes Mike Hall and Max Westman did it in 2007 and 2008, respectively. The last men's outdoor all-American was 800 runner Courtney Jaworski in 2005. And the last Quakers to claim national championships were Sam Burley (800) and Brian Chaput (javelin) in 2003.

Reynolds' best effort was 7 feet, 53/4 inches.

"I'm just trying to relax and enjoy my week," Reynolds said. "I'm going to do a couple of practice sessions on Wednesday, and rest on Thursday. It's a pretty big deal. This was one of my goals."

Big Five athletes

Other Big Five athletes who earned NCAA berths, and dates of finals:

Villanova - Sheila Reid (1,500 and 5,000 meters), Friday and Saturday, respectively; Bogdana Mimic (5,000 meters), Saturday; Shericka Ward (100-meter hurdles), Saturday; Matthew Gibney (1,500), Saturday.

Temple - Bob Keogh (hammer throw), Thursday; Travis Mahoney (3,000-meter steeplechase), Friday.