After the Duke men stated earlier in the week that they would be sure to get either an at-large or automatic bid to the national championship if they finished in a top-four spot, the Blue Devils crossed the line in fifth overall at the NCAA Southeast Regional meet in Charlotte this past weekend.
And after spending several agonizing hours waiting, the team received the news news that they had qualified for the national meet.
Duke got off to a strong start at the meet, but soon ran into trouble when it became obvious that a few of the runners were slightly off their personal best performances. Although the team received typically solid performances from senior Mike Moverman and junior Shaun Thompson, much of the credit for the NCAA qualification can be assigned to the two runners who were able to exceed expectations and stepped up when their teammates were unable to do so.
When Duke finished ahead of George Mason to take the fifth-place spot, it did so by only one point—a point that can be attributed to senior Dominick Robinson. When the runners came out of the woods onto the open stretch just before the finish line, Robinson was a step behind George Mason’s John Holt.
In the short distance to the finish, Robinson managed to muster a final burst of strength and pass Holt, finishing just a second and a half ahead of him with a time of 31:00.44, just 10 seconds after Moverman crossed the line in first for the Blue Devils. That difference pushed Duke past George Mason and into the NCAA Championship meet.
“That was the difference. If that George Mason guy had beaten Dominick... We wouldn’t have gone. Dominick saved the day,” head coach Norm Ogilvie said.
This is not the first time Robinson has stepped up for the team. In an almost identical situation, Robinson pulled ahead of a Virginia Tech runner at the Pre-National meet in Louisville, Ky. and in doing so ensured that Duke finished ahead of Virginia Tech by just one point. Both moments helped ensure Duke’s berth into the national meet and, in the words of Ogilvie made him a “hero” for the team.
Another runner who was able to step up and help shoulder the burden for the team when a few of the top-five runners were not at their peaks was junior Christian Britto. For the second race in a row, Britto was able to step up and run as the fourth man for the Blue Devils.
“I’m really happy with how my season’s going especially considering how I started. I’m definitely happy being top-seven,” Britto said. “[Before the race] I was excited because I thought we had a pretty good chance of going to nationals. I decided to just run my own race and make sure... that I could help out if I needed to.”
When Britto noticed teammates James Kostelnik and Brian Atkinson falling back, he knew that the team’s chances of making the national meet were dwindling. Instead of getting discouraged though, the sight only motivated him to run faster, which ended up paying off for Duke.
Now that the team has accomplished its goal of making it into the Championships, the only thing left to do is make sure that its runners are able to bring their best to the starting line in Louisville. Despite any hiccups along the way, the runners are sure that this is something they will be able to do.
“I think everyone is entitled to a ‘flat’ race and the people that had a bad race at ACC’s stepped up today and did well, and the people that had good races at ACC’s didn’t do that great at Regionals so everyone kind of got it out of their system,” Britto said. “Now that it’s the last race of the year, there’s nothing to hold back. Everyone’s going to... go for broke.”