With one successful meet after another, the 10th-ranked Duke women managed to exceed expectations at the NCAA Championship meet in Louisville, Ky. this past Saturday with a seventh-place finish.

“We were simply thrilled,” head coach Kevin Jermyn said. “It was a good start to the year early on in September and things just got better and better… and we finished with our best performance of the year. I think they were excited to be there, they felt prepared and they were looking forward to a good race, and it was a mentality that certainly led to some of the best racing that some of the girls have done all season.”

The Blue Devils were led by sophomore Kelsey Lakowske, who finished off the first season of her cross country career with a personal-best time of 20:03.4 in the 6km race. Her 20th-place finish was good enough to earn her All-America honors.

“It still hasn’t really hit me,” Lakowske said. “I’m happy with the race, I’m happy with how our team did and most of all I’m happy with the entire experience.”

Lakowske headed into the meet with the intention of starting out faster than usual and hopefully holding her momentum until the end of the race. Although she readily acknowledged the possibility of burning out too soon, she managed to keep up the pace and finish in the top spot for the Blue Devils, a rare experience for a first-year runner at a national meet.

Lakowske was followed by teammate Juliet Bottorff, who took 27th with her time of 20:06.1, earning All-America honors as well. Sophomore Carolyn Baskir crossed the line in third for the Blue Devils, 32 seconds behind Bottorff, and was followed shortly afterwards by graduate student Suejin Ahn, who finished her cross country career with a time of 20:52.3. Senior Madeline Morgan, who had run individually at the Championships the previous season and with the team in 2010, took 160th with her time of 21:10.6. Teammates Ashley Brasovan and Gabby Levac closed out the rest of the Duke squad with their times of 21:33.5 and 21:46.4, respectively.

The top-10 finish at the meet was Duke’s best since its third-place finish in 2005 and Jermyn and his runners said it was due, at least in part, to the close team connection that the runners have been working to foster since before the start of the season.

“Juliet was a really big boost for us,” Jermyn said. “Workout after workout, race after race, [she was] always at the front of the pack, raising the level of performance for herself and the entire team…. And having Suejin come back for a fifth year… really that kind of anchored our seventh-place finish. We had a really neat combination of seniors and rookies out there, and it was a combination that turned out to be very successful.”

For Lakowske, that combination was key in helping her to showcase her ability as one of the top runners on the team.

“I wouldn’t have made it without my teammates—both the people that I was running with at the race and the support of everybody back in Durham,” Lakowske said. “I couldn’t be more appreciative of what an awesome team I have. I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else.”