Two meets this weekend give the Blue Devils a final chance to qualify for postseason competition and improve their seeding.
Jessie Lu / Chronicle File Photo
Two meets this weekend give the Blue Devils a final chance to qualify for postseason competition and improve their seeding.

With the NCAA East Preliminary Round less than two weeks away, the Blue Devils will send competitors to two meets this weekend, ensuring that every member of the reduced postseason roster has a shot at qualifying.

In addition to sending seven long-distance runners to the IC4A/ECAC Championships at Princeton, N.J. this weekend, Duke will have more than 30 entries in the 2013 Virginia Challenge at Charlottesville, Va. to give every Blue Devil one last chance at qualifying for the NCAA Preliminaries.

“There are a bunch of athletes that we have that are really solidly in [to the first round], and then we have some that are on the bubble,” head coach Norm Ogilvie said. “The ones that are in, this is their final chance to compete for two weeks so you don't want to get rusty.... For the other guys, it's do or die.”

In order to qualify for the NCAA East Preliminary Round, which takes place during Memorial Day Weekend, athletes must hold one of the top 48 individual marks or one of the top 24 relay marks in the East Region, For those who have already secured high marks, these last events of the regular season will also provide an opportunity to improve seeding, Ogilvie said.

Of the distance runners who will be headed to the cooler weather at the IC4A/ECAC Championships, sophomore Sean Thompson has the most secure time.

“He's already got a birth at NCAAs sewn up,” Ogilvie said. “He's going to try to win the IC4A steeplechase. That's his goal.”

Also on the men’s side, juniors Phil Fairleigh and Spencer Pecha will both have one last shot at raising their times in the men’s 5,000 meters.

For the women’s squad, competing in the ECAC portion of the event,  senior Esther Vermeer and junior Ashley Berry will race in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, senior Madeline Morgan will compete in the 5,000 meters and Ashley Brasovan will race in the 10,000 meters. 

Making their first appearance at the Virginia Challenge, the Blue Devils will also have the opportunity to participate in a competitive meet closer to home.

“It's an extremely competitive meet, so we know we've gone to the right place,” Ogilvie said.

For athletes with positions in the postseason locked up, the event will provide a tune-up opportunity, Ogilvie added.

Junior Curtis Beach, who won the Decathlon at the Texas Relays March 27 with the best score in the country at the time, still holds the nation’s third-best and the region’s second-best score.

“He's still an easy qualifier for NCAAs so he won't compete in the full decathlon this week,” Ogilvie said. “He's just going to do like the first day to kind of work on some of his events but not get as fatigued as he would be if he did the entire [event].”

Many of Duke’s athletes do not have the luxury of a tune-up however. In particular, the women’s heptathalon will feature three Blue Devils—Karli Johonot, Miray Steward and Bailey Murphy—fighting for postseason berths.

“They have to fight and scrap through a heptathalon to get in and they will have to do that this weekend,” Ogilvie said. “[They] all would have to have really good meets to get in, but it's do or die so you just give it everything you have.”

Although much of the weekend’s focus will center around individual athletes’ fortunes, Ogilvie has several team goals in mind as well. Estimating that roughly 20 athletes have relatively secure spots in the NCAA field and about 20 must improve their marks to qualify, Ogilvie said reaching 30 berths for the team would mark a great year for the program.

He also hopes to extend a team performance streak.

“We'd like to continue to take apart the school record book which we've been doing consistently all year. I think every single weekend on the outdoor season this year we've taken down at least one school record,” he said. “We don't know what event it will come in, but hopefully, we will get at least one school record this weekend as well. Keep that little streak going.”