Despite an impressive final month of the regular season, Duke was not expected to make much noise at the ACC championships, especially on the men’s side after finishing 13th in the indoor competition in late February.
But behind remarkable individual performances in the field events from both sides, the two Blue Devil squads turned some heads this past weekend. The women took fifth with 77.5 points while the men finished in eighth place with 53 points at Georgia Tech's George C. Griffin Track from Friday to Sunday—improvements of one and five slots, respectively, from the winter's indoor results.
Seventeen athletes captured All-ACC awards, and three turned in gold-medal performances to highlight the event.
“We hit it out of the park this weekend,” Duke director of track and field Norm Oglivie said. “Our athletes competed very well and we're really, really pleased with how we performed.”
The men started off with a bang behind a surprising effort from sophomore Nicholas Solfanelli in the men’s javelin. After finishing seventh in last year’s event, Solfanelli grabbed gold in his second go, registering a personal-best with a throw of 212 feet, 11 inches. Freshmen Keigan Linihan and Michael Marsack finished close behind Solfanelli in fifth and sixth places with efforts of 199 feet, 7 inches and 196 feet, 10 inches, respectively, to capture second team All-ACC awards and notch 17 points for the Blue Devils.
The women also snagged points in the javelin with freshman Katelyn Gochenour taking third place and senior Christine Streisel finishing in fourth, but Duke's pole-vaulting squad grabbed all the attention, just as has in past years.
The Blue Devils swept the podium in dominant fashion with junior Madison Health’s gold—an improvement on her bronze medal last year—freshman Laura Marty’s silver and sophomore Nati Sheppard’s third-place finish. All three were first-team All-ACC selection, and freshman Chesney Ward's sixth-place finish put her on the second team. Duke's four pole vaulters earned 27 points for the team.
“Madison Heath finished in second a lot of times with [former All-American] Megan Clark [winning] the last few years. Coach [Shawn] Wilbourn has built that kind of brand with Duke women’s pole vault. If you want to be a good pole vaulter, this is the place you want to come.”
The women closed the gap with eventual champion Virginia Tech on the second day with a pair of medaling performances from sophomores. First, Jaida Lemmons grabbed second place in the heptathlon with a personal record of 5,397 points, and then Sydnei Murphy followed suit with a third-place mark of 20 feet, 2 1/2 inches in the long jump to bring the margin to one point between the two squads.
Due to their work in the field events, both the Blue Devil men's and women's sides were in second place after two days.
But the distance runners could not build on the impressive performances in the field with only one medaling performance on the final day, which came as little surprise with Madeline Koop’s blazing 2:03.69 third-place finish in the 800 meters. Still, the women only slid to fifth place and exceeded expectations in their last event before the NCAA regionals.
On the men’s side, graduate student Daniel Golubovic stole the show for the final two days with a first-place effort in the decathlon. Despite sitting in fourth with only five events to go, Golubovic climbed up the leaderboard with first-place finishes in both the javelin and discus to secure the gold, all but guaranteeing him a spot in the 48-person field in the NCAA regionals.
“I know we’re going to have a good representation across all the event areas, and we’re excited about going to regionals,” Oglivie said. “We think that’ll give us a chance to qualify some athletes directly to [the] NCAA [championships].”
With strong individual performances on both sides, Duke should several athletes to the NCAA East Regional May 25-27 in Lexington, Ky. The top 12 in each event there will then advance to the NCAA championships in Eugene, Ore., June 7-10.
The field will be announced for regionals Thursday, but until then, Oglivie can only continue to prepare his teams for the rest of the postseason.
“The plan is to get them ready to compete at their very best,” Oglivie said. “[We want] to get as many people to Eugene as possible.”
Hank Tucker contributed reporting.