Boasting a full lineup for the first time this season, Duke proved it was more than capable against the stiffest competition it has faced all year.
The Blue Devils placed fourth out of 13 teams at the Virginia/Panorama Farms Invitational Saturday in Charlottesville, Va., with a total of 104 points, finishing just three points behind ACC rival Virginia.
Despite the close loss to the No. 16 Cavaliers, head coach Norm Ogilvie was quick to put the his team's performance in perspective.
“We’re certainly disappointed to lose to Virginia by three points,” Ogilvie said. “But those guys were the Southeast regional champs last year. To have closed the gap that much in basically just the offseason is remarkable. We definitely expect to see a boost in the polls after this race.”
North Carolina took first with 58 points, and Eastern Kentucky finished second with 76 points.
The story of the day was the season debut of two top Duke runners, graduate student Mike Moverman and junior Shaun Thompson. Although rust was a pre-race concern for the duo, they took no time finding their form, as Moverman raced to fifth place in the 8,000-meter race with a time of 23:56.8, and Thompson was right behind in seventh at 23:57.1. Both runners set personal bests with their performances Saturday.
“It felt really good to race again,” Moverman said. “But cross-country is a team sport, so I’m just happy with how the team raced today.”
Senior Brian Atkinson matched his time from the Furman Invitational two weeks ago with a 24:08.1 effort that earned him 14th place. Lucas Talavan-Becker and William Rooney rounded out the top five for Duke in 36th and 43rd place, respectively.
The Blue Devils had run what Ogilvie had called a “passive” race two weeks ago in Furman, and he was pleased to see them take control of the race early Saturday.
“We really went out strong,” Ogilvie said. “We had seven guys break 25 minutes today. On this course, that’s pretty good.”
The top five Blue Devils averaged a time of 24:16, the best five-man time for Duke on the Charlottesville, Va. course in the team's history. The strong performance bodes well for the the rest of the season, as the NCAA Southeast Regional Championships later this year will also take place on the Charlottesville course.
With the squad gearing up for pre-nationals in Terre Haute, Ind., in three weeks, Duke will be focusing on the crucial cohesion that can push the team to the next level.
“It’s just a matter of the No. 4 and No. 5 guys closing the gap in the second group a little, and that’ll give us a good shot,” Moverman said. “If we’re all on on the same day, we’ll be able to beat some really good teams.”