The Blue Devils will face their most competitive field of the season so far Saturday at the Wisconsin Invitational with a chance to climb back up the regional and national rankings.
Graduate student Juliet Bottorff and freshmen Wesley Frazier, Hannah Meier and Haley Meier—the team’s four top-scoring runners—will return to competition Saturday in Madison, Wis., after taking a break from the Royals Challenge last Friday.
This meet will host more runners than the NCAA Championship and more than half of the top-ranked teams in the nation, so head coach Kevin Jermyn will use this race as mental preparation for the championships later in the season now that his team is peaking physically as the racers begin to taper their training in preparation for the championship season.
“We are going to get an exaggerated effect of what the NCAAs are going to be like now at our halfway point in the season,” Jermyn said. “Hopefully what we get most out of it is that when we go to the national championships, [the racers] are in familiar territory and feel more prepared to run mentally well.”
After competing at the Notre Dame Invitational without Frazier and Hannah Meier and settling for a 10th-place finish, Duke has fallen back in both the regional and national rankings according to the most recent U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association poll.
In the Southeast region, the Blue Devils have dropped from first to third behind Virginia and William and Mary, both of which will not be travelling to the Wisconsin Invitational this weekend. Nationally, Duke has been surpassed in the rankings by 13 teams, leaving the Blue Devils in 17th.
“It’s helpful not to be over-ranked,” Jermyn said. “I’m fine with where we’re ranked. Would I like to be better than that at the end of the year? Sure. I don’t think it’s a negative thing mid-season. We are trying to keep a balanced perspective.”
This race gives Duke a good chance to improve its rankings because of the competition it attracts from around the nation.
Of the 36 women’s teams competing in this event, 17 are ranked among the top 30 in the nation, including Providence, Arizona and Washington, ranked first, third and fourth, respectively.
The race on the Zimmerman Course will mark the first time Duke will run 6,000 meters this season, but Jermyn said the additional kilometer has not changed the team’s race mentality.
“It isn’t a monumental change in mindset or how we are preparing for it,” he said. “We don’t make a big deal of the transition. Either you run all-out or you don’t. That’s what’s hard, whether you’re running a 5K or a 6K.”
Most of the Blue Devils who competed in the Royals Challenge will not travel to Wisconsin but will compete Friday at the Blue Ridge Open 5K in Boone, N.C., with a chance to make a name for themselves heading into the postseason.
“It is possible someone could have a breakthrough and earn a spot on the ACC roster,” Jermyn said. “The main goal is to help those kids develop and give them a full season.”