The Blue Devils begin three days of competition at the ACC Championships Thursday in Clemson, S.C., where the field will feature the conference's toughest competition to date.
At last year’s ACC Championships, the Blue Devils took third on the women’s side and fifth on the men’s side. That performance will be increasingly difficult to replicate following the expansion of the ACC to include Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pittsburgh among the field's competitors.
“We think we are better than we have ever been,” director of track and field Norm Ogilvie said. “I think this will prove to be one of the best track and field meets that Duke has ever had. I think everybody is anxious to compete. We feel ready and well prepared.”
The women enter this weekend at No. 24 on the most recent U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Poll. The Blue Devils are second on both the men’s and women’s sides in the Southeast region, with the men sitting behind conference rival North Carolina.
Both the men and women outscored the Tar Heels in team competition at the Carolina Cup in January, which gives the team confidence heading into the championships this weekend.
“We think we can challenge for the win if we have a lot of good things happen,” Ogilvie said. “But track meets have a lot of moving parts, and a lot of things can happen.”
Duke hopes to capitalize on its strength in the women's pentathlon and men's heptathlon at the beginning of the meet to get out to an early lead.
Karli Jonnohot holds the Blue Devils’ school record in both the pentathlon and the high jump. Her season-best pentathlon score of 4,038 points places her at No. 14 in the nation and is the third-best score in the ACC.
Curtis Beach is poised to end his collegiate career in impressive fashion. The redshirt senior is ranked third in the nation in the heptathlon and holds a season-best score of 5,427 points.
But some of the conference's stiffest competitions will also challenge Duke in some of the Blue Devils' strongest events.
Sophomore Megan Clark enters the meet at the top of the conference in the pole vault, ranked third in the nation with her vault of 14 feet, 3 1/2 inches in early February. Martina Schultze of Virginia Tech sits three places behind her with a season-best height of 14 feet, 2 1/2 inches.
The women’s distance events—the 3,000 meters and the 5,000 meters—also pose tough competition for the Blue Devils.
“The event is extremely deep,” Ogilvie said. “But fortunately we have one of the best of all in Juliet Bottorff.”
The graduate student has posted the ACC’s top time in the 5,000 meters at 15:49.80. Her season-best time of 9:18.88 in the 3,000-meter race places her two seconds behind Annie Lehardy of North Carolina.
Duke’s Nate McClafferty is undefeated in the mile this year, yet enters the meet ranked 16th in the event. Four ACC athletes have already broken the 4-minute mark this season. McClafferty's season-best mile time is 4:06.59, which Ogilvie said would be good enough to compete for a conference title pre-expansion.
“There were lots of years where you could go 4:06 and win,” Ogilvie said. “This year it is a tough event.”
The Blue Devils will need to post the nation’s top times in scores in order to advance to the NCAA Championships, regardless of place within the conference. At the conclusion of the qualifying period on Sunday, the top 16 athletes in individual events and the top 12 relays will advance to compete in Albuquerque, N.M., in March.