Category Archives: Track and Field

Here’s a toast to dear old Penn

This past year was a great one for Penn sports, as I tried to document with this list of memorable games. But it was also a sad one, as a few Quaker legends passed away. Here’s a brief tribute to some of the ones we lost in 2012:

George Savitsky Ed’48 D’54 GD’59

July 30, 1924 – September 4, 2012

George SavitskyA four-time All-American from 1944-47, Savitsky was one of the greatest football players ever to play for Penn – during one of the program’s greatest stretches.

Led by the bruising offensive tackle, the Quakers were ranked 10th in the nation in 1945, 13th in 1946 and seventh in 1947 (which stands as the program’s highest finish ever).

Savitsky, who was also a member of the track and field and wrestling teams while at Penn, was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1947 and won NFL championships in 1948 and 1949 with the Birds, before returning to Penn to study to become a dentist. He lived most of his life as an oral surgeon in New Jersey.

He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1991 and was also a member of the second class to be inducted into the Penn Athletics Hall of Fame in 1998.

Bob Odell C’43

March 5, 1922 – December 15, 2012

Bob Odell 1Another standout football player from the 1940s, Odell did it all for the Quakers as one of the last great iron-man players. He ran, passed, punted, received, returned kickoffs and punts and played defense from 1940-43, winning the Maxwell Trophy and coming in second in the Heisman Trophy voting as a senior in 1943.

He was drafted into the NFL in 1944 but instead served two years in the United States Navy, before giving up football due to a knee injury. But he only gave up playing football and quickly got into coaching, compiling an overall record of 136-95-5 as the head coach for Bucknell, Penn and Williams.

He was the head coach at Penn from 1965 to 1970 before taking over at Williams.

He was inducted into the College Hall of Fame in 1992 and was a charter member of the Penn Athletics Hall of Fame in 1996.

Dick Harter Ed’53

October 14, 1930 – March 12, 2012

dick harterA basketball lifer, Harter is perhaps best known for coaching Penn to a perfect regular season in 1970-71 that ended in devastating fashion.

Before that, Harter played for the Quakers as a reserve guard, was an assistant coach for Penn after graduating and returned to his alma mater as head coach in 1966 after a brief stint at Rider. His 1969-70 and 1970-71 teams were two of the best in program history – and his Marine-like intensity was a big reason why.

In 1971 Harter left Penn to coach the University of Oregon, where his teams were known as the “Kamikaze Kids” because of their fast-paced defensive style. He later coached at Penn State and then spent many years as an NBA coach (for the Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Hornets, Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks, Portland Trailblazers, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers).

Harter was inducted into the Philadelphia Big 5 Hall of Fame in 1993. Three years later, he was a member of the inaugural class inducted into the Penn Athletics Hall of Fame.

Albert Richmond “Boo” Morcom

May 1, 1921 – October 3, 2012

Morcom2A track and field star at the University of New Hampshire and an Olympian, Morcom came to Penn in 1948 to be an assistant coach for the Quakers’ track program.

Two years later, he was recalled for duty in the Korean War (where he served as an office and jumpmaster in the 101st Airborne Division known as “The Screaming Eagles”) before returning to Penn, where he spent 35 years as an assistant coach, a head coach and, finally, the director of intramural athletics.

During his lifetime, Boo was elected into seven halls of fame, including the Braintree High School Athletic Hall of Fame, the UNH Athletic Hall of Fame, the Pole Vault Hall of Fame, the Massachusetts Track Coaches Hall of Fame, and as a coach in the Women’s Track and Field Hall of Fame.

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Filed under Football, Men's Basketball, Track and Field, Year in Review

Penn’s couching carousel: One Martin leaves, another Martin stays

Mike Martin
… going

Robin Martin
… staying

On a day when Penn lost talented basketball coach Mike Martin to Brown, the school softened the blow by hiring Robin Martin to be the permanent men’s track and field coach.

Robin Martin, a star runner for the Quakers in the late 1990s, had been running the track team on an interim basis since longtime coach Charlie Powell retired suddenly last December but always seemed like the smart choice to remain in charge.

In the interviews I’ve had with him, Martin has been enthusiastic, friendly, professional and extremely ambitious, talking often about how he’s bringing in an extra-dynamic recruiting class to Penn this fall and how he believes the Quakers can – and should – become one of the nation’s premier track programs, just as they were throughout the early part of the 20th century.

Here is the statement Martin made upon hearing the news of his promotion:

“It is such an honor and a privilege to be the James P. Tuppeny Head Coach of Men’s Track & Field. The history, the unrivaled education, and the possibilities for national-level excellence make Penn an amazing opportunity for a coach. To be able to share a vision for success with a passionate administration is the icing on the cake. I would like to thank Steve Bilsky for his confidence, and his trust.  My staff and I are driven to bring this program back to national prominence. We are going to do some great things here.”

And then there’s the other Martin, who’s returning to Brown – where he starred as a basketball player from 2000-2004 – after serving as an assistant coach at Penn for the past six years.

Mike Martin always seemed like a perfect hire for Brown, not only because he played there during one of the team’s best stretches but because he proved his chops in the same league as a quality recruiter and tactician. And the fact that he managed to stay at Penn, even after the firing of Glenn Miller – who brought him from Brown to Penn – speaks to his character and determination. No one ever thought of him as “the Brown guy.” He was simply a very good coach who drew up brilliant plays like this one. (Click on the link and watch the video. Trust me.)

Here is a (very warm) statement on Martin’s departure from men’s basketball coach Jerome Allen, who now has two holes to plug on his coaching staff:

“I am extremely happy for Mike and his family; his hiring is a well-deserved. Mike has done the University of Pennsylvania a great service for the last six years, and it is only right that he get the opportunity to run his own program. As I have learned the last three years, it is a special opportunity to oversee a program that you once played in, and I know that Mike will embrace that opportunity at Brown. With the exception of two times each season, I wish Mike nothing but the best of success.”

You can read more comments on Martin here.

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Penn’s action-packed sports weekend

As far as sports weekends go, it’s hard to imagine too many being bigger than this one for Penn athletics. Want to head out to campus to take in some of the action? Here’s a look of what’s on tap:

Women’s Lacrosse – Ivy League Tournament

Friday and Sunday, Dunning-Cohen Champions Field at Penn Park

For the third straight year, the Quakers will host the Ivy League Women’s Lacrosse Tournament, earning that right by finishing atop the league standings to capture their sixth straight Ivy championship. Incidentally, Penn has hosted this tourney (which determines the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament) all three years of its existence.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the tourney is that the games will be the first played by a varsity team at the synthetic turf field at Penn Park, which is primarily used as a practice facility. The reason for this is the team’s normal home at Franklin Field will be occupied by track and field (see more below).

As the top seed, the Quakers open with fourth-seeded Harvard on Friday at 8 p.m. Should they advance, they’ll play the Dartmouth-Cornell winner Sunday to become the second Penn team this spring to win the Ivy title. (The men’s golf team won in thrilling fashion last weekend.)

Track and Field – Outdoor Heptagonal Championships

Saturday and Sunday, Franklin Field

Just one week after Penn Relays, Franklin Field will be filled with elite athletes again as the seven other Ivy League teams join the host Quakers for Heps.

Last year the Quaker men finished in seventh place at the outdoor championships meet but Maalik Reynolds claimed the high jump title with the second-best jump in Heps history. Now a sophomore, Reynolds will look to defend his title, as will Penn’s 4×800 relay team, which took first at last year’s meet.

On the women’s side, junior Morgan Wheeler and junior Jillian Hart are among the favorites to win Heps titles in the javelin and pole vault, respectively, while the Quakers’ 4×100 relay team of Gabrielle Piper, Paige Madison, Leah Brown and Emily Townsend should also have a good showing.

Softball – One-Game Playoff for South Division Title

Saturday, 12:30 p.m., Penn Park

For the first time in conference history, there will be a one-game playoff to determine who plays in the Ivy League Championship Series. Penn and Cornell will do the honors after finishing tied atop the South Division with 15-5 records. Both teams set up the showdown after concluding the regular season with four-game weekend sweeps. The winner of the matchup will face North Division champ Harvard the following weekend.

Cornell has won the last three South Division championships, while Penn is going for just their second division title in program history. But the upstart Quakers (32-15) have already taken three out of four from Cornell this season and boast perhaps the best pitcher in the league in Alexis Borden.

Borden, a freshman, leads the league in earned run average (1.39) and wins (23). The Penn offense, meanwhile is led by reigning Ivy League Player of the Week Brooke Coloma (who is second in the league with 34 RBIs) and freshman Sydney Turchin (who leads the league with 36 runs scored).

Penn Athletics Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

Saturday, The Inn at Penn

Away from the fields where Penn’s current athletes are competing for championships, some past champions will be honored in this invite-only, black-tie event.

The eighth induction class features Diana Caramanico W’01, LPS’11 (women’s basketball), Debra Cencits Donnally NU’81, GNU’83 (field hockey/women’s lacrosse), Tim Chambers C’85 (football), Willis N. Cummings D’19 (track/cross country), Melissa Ingalls C’90 (women’s volleyball), Bruce Lefkowitz C’87 (men’s basketball), Robert Levy C’52 (special award), Timothy Ortman C’01 (sprint football/wrestling), Joseph Sturgis, Sr. C’56 L’59 (men’s basketball), Paul Toomey C’77 (men’s soccer), John Tori C’54 (men’s fencing) and Bob Weinhauer (men’s basketball coach of the famed 1979 Final Four team).

It’s a pretty impressive class to be sure, and we’ll have more on these Penn greats following the induction ceremony.

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Filed under Hall of Fame, Softball, Track and Field, Women's Lacrosse

For Penn fans, a Penn Relays primer

Robin Martin, right, will be head coach for his first Penn Relays after taking over the men's track and field program from the reins of Charlie Powell, left, last December.

It’s that time of year again as runners from across the country (and Jamaica – a lot from Jamaica!) come to Franklin Field for the largest, oldest and perhaps most exciting track and field competition in the country.

Yes, the 118th running of the historic Penn Relays is here.

Earlier this week, I got the chance to discuss the meet with Penn interim men’s track and field coach Robin Martin C’00, a former Penn Relays champion who I featured in a recent Gazette issue.

With his help, I’ve pinpointed a couple of Penn storylines to watch for students and alums going to Franklin Field this weekend. (To see Penn’s entire schedule, click here).

College Men’s High Jump Championship

Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

Last year, Maalik Reynolds became the first Penn athlete to win the Penn Relays high jump title since 1955 (when Will Lee C’55 shared the title with three others in 1955). He later improved upon that winning jump of 7 feet, 3 ¼ inches to capture a Heps crown the following week, and the sophomore remains one of the nation’s best jumpers this year. Despite being the top seed and favorite, Martin expects stiff competition, especially from a pair of Indiana University jumpers in Derek Drouin and Darius King. Still, there are a lot of expectations for Reynolds to repeat. Martin said that many Penn alums decided to sit in the section in front of the high jump area just to watch Penn’s star sophomore.

College Men’s Distance Medey Championship of America

Friday, 4 p.m.

Penn's Ryan Cunningham will anchor the Men's DMR on Friday.

This is an event that is usually one of the most exciting ones at Penn Relays. It’s also won that has been dominated by Villanova, which has won the race two of the past three years and 25 times overall. But Martin believes his team consisting of senior Brian Fulton (1200-meter leg), senior Brian Rosenthal (400), freshman Mato Bekelja (800) and senior anchor Ryan Cunningham (1600-meter leg) can make a splash. Martin called Cunningham and Fulton “national-caliber” mid-distance runners, especially heaping praise upon Cunningham, who put in a lot of hard work to shave his mile time down from 4:24 to around 4:02 since coming to Penn. And since the DMR usually comes down to who runs the strongest mile, Martin is hopeful Cunningham and the Quakers will be able to stay with Villanova and the other national powers in this event.

High School Boys Discus Throw Championship

Friday, 10 a.m.

As the top seed, East Brunswick High School senior Sam Mattis will look to defend his Penn Relays title in the discus. Why should this matter to Quaker fans? Well, Mattis will be attending Penn next year, having passed up full rides from some of the nation’s premier programs to be the centerpiece of Martin’s first recruiting class as head coach. You might want to get a sneak peak at Mattis, who Martin believes has the potential to be a national champion and an Olympic thrower some day.

High School Boys Mile Run Championship

Friday, 6:05 p.m.

Staying with the high schools – which usually has some of the most exciting races at Penn Relays – another Penn recruit will be a competing for a national title: Upper Moreland’s Drew Magaha. According to Martin, Magaha is the best 800-meter runner in the country and would already be in the Penn record books for his 800 time. Now we can see how he does against the country’s best high school milers.

———–

There are other races to watch, of course. For Penn, the men have a good 4×800 relay team that has a chance to win the second Championship of America heat, and the Penn women will look to be competitive in the 4×100, 4×200 and 4×800, among other heats. And, of course, let’s not forget about local power Villanova going for gold in most of the distance relays, as well as the thrilling USA vs. the World races on Saturday that always electrify the crowd.

To see the entire Penn Relays schedule (and follow results live), click here. But if you’re in town, you should really try to make it out to Franklin Field to soak in the atmosphere and excitement of the country’s best track meet.

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Meet Penn’s newest head coach

Once, Blake Boldon decided to play pickup basketball with some of the athletes he coached. The word once needs to be emphasized here because it never happened again.

“When we lost, I couldn’t sleep that night,” Boldon told the Gazette. “Just losing, I can’t handle it. It’s not part of my fiber.”

As the new head coach of Penn’s men’s and women’s cross country program, Boldon will try to infuse that winning attitude into his runners. And considering the kind of pedigree he has, the runners will almost certainly listen.

After a mediocre start to his own track career – the Iowa-born Boldon said he wasn’t very good in high school and didn’t even make the travel team for regional championships when he first got to Missouri State University – Boldon emerged as one of the top distance runners in the country, placing in the top 10 at the United States Track & Field Championships four times and joining the elite fraternity of men that have run a mile in less than four minutes.

“I wasn’t an extraordinary athlete,” the 31-year-old Boldon said. “I made my living on beating people I probably I shouldn’t have. I was never an Olympian but any time an Olympian lined up next to me, I had a good shot at him.”

His own underdog story will certainly serve him well in his new role, especially when he has to break the news to a runner that they’re not making a trip for a big meet. His competitive drive should also be a boon to the program – although Boldon realizes there has to be a detachment when you’re coaching and not competing. That way, he’ll still be able to sleep, even after tough losses.

“If I’m losing sleep right now, it’s not because I’m worried about losing,” Boldon said. “It’s because I’m excited about where we are headed.”

Judging by the school’s growing commitment to cross country, the program is likely headed in the right direction. In the past, the cross country teams have been coached separately by the men’s and women’s track coaches, but this year, for the first time, only one person – Boldon – will coach both squads.

Boldon, who has previous coaching experience at Florida State, Iowa State and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (where he was a head coach), was hired as a distance coaching specialist for the Penn track teams last year, before being promoted to run the cross country teams on July 18.

“The key is having a mentality that cross country is a team sport and building a group that becomes something more than people that run together,” Boldon said. “The idea is building a team, a program – and that excited a lot of people.”

Boldon already has enjoyed a good deal of success at Penn. The highlight was mentoring Penn junior Leslie Kovach, who had a breakout campaign last spring, setting school records in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters and becoming the second outdoor All-American in the history of the Penn women’s track and field program.

Boldon in his competitive running days

In addition to helping Kovach become an even better college runner this year, Boldon also hopes to help her train and perhaps qualify for the 2012 Olympic Trials. As someone who just missed out on being included in the 2008 Olympic Trials – despite a frustrating appeal process that, in his mind at least, was unfair – Boldon has a unique knowledge on United States Track & Field’s sometimes-flawed qualifying system.

“I will have been through all that and I will know how to navigate it,” he said. “Maybe she and I are in Eugene, Oregon next summer getting ready for prelims in the women’s 5k.”

Either way, just being around talented athletes – and trying to shape their futures – will fill a much-needed void in the runner’s life.

Said Boldon: “Being here, being around tremendous athletes, seeing the direction we’re headed in as a team – it’s all very exciting.”

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Penn’s track and field All-Americans

Penn men’s track and field coach Charlie Powell believes Maalik Reynolds can jump as high as eight feet and be an NCAA – and maybe even a world – champion some day. Assistant track coach Blake Boldon thinks Leslie Kovach has the ability to run 5,000 meters in under 16 minutes.

It’s a testament to both the talent and youth of Penn’s two biggest track stars that so much is expected of them. And while neither athlete could reach those lofty goals – or even match their personal bests – at the NCAA Track and Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, on Friday night, both capped phenomenal seasons by becoming All-Americans.

Reynolds, a freshman, finished tied for seventh in the high jump to become the first men’s outdoor All-American since Courtney Jaworski did it in the 800 meters in 2005. Reynolds’ best jump at the meet was 7 feet, ¼ inches (2.14 meters), which was well below his personal best of 7-5 ¾ (a school record) that was set at the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships.

Reynolds, who earlier in the outdoor season became the first Penn athlete to win the high jump at the Penn Relays since Will Lee in 1955, told me he hoped to jump 7-7 at the NCAA championships, a height he called “doable.” The star freshman couldn’t reach that, but considering the event’s champion – Kansas State’s Eric Kynard – won the NCAAs with a manageable jump of 7-6, it would appear that a national title could be on the horizon for Reynolds, if he continues to improve.

“I’ve got a feeling, he’s going to develop into the best this school’s ever seen, maybe the best this conference has ever seen, maybe the best the U.S. has ever seen,” Powell said before he and Reynolds departed for Iowa. “I’m not joking – he’s got that kind of mindset right now. If he stays humble, if he keeps working, if he doesn’t get crazy, he might be that guy.”

Kovach also has enormous potential, and continued to show some of it at the NCAA championships. The sophomore distance runner finished 18th nationally in the 5,000 meters in 16:16.10, the second best time of her career. Her best time came at the Penn Relays when she clocked 16:11.59, smashing the school record by nine seconds.

Kovach becomes the second outdoor All-American in Penn women’s track history, joining Chris Lundry (3,000 meters, 1992) on the illustrious list.

Interestingly enough, Kovach beat the 5K national champion – Villanova’s Sheila Reid – at the NCAA East Preliminary Round, which helped propel her on to the national finals. But the incomparable Reid – whose winning time of 15:37.57 on Friday was 37 seconds better than her previous best – and other seasoned runners like Oregon’s Jordan Hasay (who placed fourth) and Georgetown’s Emily Infeld (second) were still heavy favorites in the race, while little was expected of Kovach, who came out of nowhere this season. Her coach, Boldon, told her to enjoy that.

“She’s going to have a unique experience because you only get one chance to be an underdog,” Boldon said before the NCAA Championships. “She’s already surpassed everyone’s expectations. You don’t need maturity. She’ll have maturity later. Right now, there’s nothing to lose.”

Now, even more will be expected of Penn’s two All-Americans in the coming years. Luckily, both youngsters seem hungry enough not to rest on their laurels and continue to strive to bring Penn a national championship.

For more on these two extraordinary athletes, you can read the main sports story in the upcoming print issue of the Gazette.

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Running through the United Kingdom

By the time summer rolls around, most college athletes are finished playing sports for their school until fall.

For a few lucky members of the Penn track and field team, that was not the case.

During the last two weeks of June, eight men and eight women from Penn had the privilege of competing against universities across the United Kingdom, joining their track brethren from Cornell for a NCAA-sanctioned trip that happens once every four years.

“It was the perfect way to close out my time at Penn,” said women’s 800-meter specialist Anna Aagenes C’10, who blogged about the trip for the Penn Athletics website and was also recently featured in this blog for her contributions to Penn away from the track.

The Penn and Cornell track teams combined to defeat University of Birmingham Sport in one meet and then Oxford and Cambridge in another, maintaining their winning streak against the two legendary English universities.

But the running, throwing and jumping part of the trip was almost secondary to touring the UK countries. Some highlights included:

  • Racing against a steam engine train across the Welsh countryside
  • Eating chocolate at Cadbury World in Birmingham
  • Punting in the Thames River in Cambridge (standing on a boat, not kicking a football)
  • Watching the World Cup among soccer fanatics at a London bar

Another interesting part of the trip for Aagenes was talking to British student-athletes and discovering that college sports are far more imbedded into the fabric of American society than it is across the pond (where club teams are more prevalent). The first scheduled meet, in fact, was turned into an intra-Ivy meet because only a couple of athletes from the school team in Bangor, Wales showed up.

“Some of them wished they had what we had,” Aagenes said. “It gave us a deeper appreciation of how lucky we are. … They just don’t really have the same type of support we have as Division I athletes.”

That type of support was made clear to Aagenes and her teammates as soon as they packed their bags, boarded a plane at JKF and spent two weeks of their summer on an all-expense paid vacation/track tour/ultimate bonding experience.

“It’s a pretty rare thing,” Aagenes said. “I feel very fortunate I was able to do it.”

Here are some more photos from the trip (courtesy of Aagenes):

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