The NCAA East Regional meet was an emotional roller coaster for Duke.
Starting and finishing the NCAA Preliminary Round strong in Jacksonville, Fla., seven Blue Devils punched their tickets for Eugene, Ore., with top-12 performances Thursday and Saturday.
Redshirt sophomore Thomas Lang opened competition for Duke in the men’s javelin. Despite a three-hour lightning delay between his flight and the first two of the event, Lang threw a mark of 227 feet on his first attempt. His effort held up through the flight’s remaining rounds. He earned seventh overall and his first qualification to the NCAA Championships of his collegiate career. He was the only ACC competitor to advance in the event.
“That was really our game plan in attacking this meet, having a strong first throw,” Lang said. “We changed things up in the last couple weeks to work towards that. Luckily things paid off… I was really happy. It’s the best I’ve ever opened.”
Once the storm cleared, Jacksonville’s hot and humid night did not faze Brian Atkinson, a Melbourne, Fla. native. The senior was determined to make the national championships his final meet in a Blue Devil uniform.
“I was thinking about, ‘This is it’,” Atkinson said. “I’ve been steadily progressing since freshman year and I thought I really wanted to get to that national level and maybe shoot for an All-American spot. I thought, ‘What do I really have to lose? Let’s go for it.’”
Atkinson moved up to the front of the pack in the 10,000 meters early and held on. Crossing the line in 29:57.49, he finished 10th and earned his first qualification to the NCAA Championships of his collegiate career.
The 10,000 meters proved to be Duke’s most successful event with an NCAA Championship qualification earned on the women’s side as well.
Graduate student Juliet Bottorff, the 2011 NCAA Outdoor Champion in the 10,000 meters, qualified for the national championships with a comfortable sixth-place finish, crossing the line in 33:55.49.
Friday’s competition also brought tough disappointment for the Blue Devils.
Sophomore Megan Clark entered the pole vault competition as the top seed in the event but missed qualification for the national championships by two spots. She began the event with promising clearances at 12 feet, 9 1/2 inches, 13 feet, 3 1/2 inches and 13 feet, 7 1/4 inches, but inclement weather postponed the competition before her attempt at the next height. While warming up again after the storm cleared, Clark’s pole snapped.
Although she was able to collect herself and attempt to clear 13 feet, 9 1/4 inches, Clark was unable to clear the height and finished 14th overall.
Hoping to return to the NCAA Championships in the 800 meters, sophomore Anima Banks had reached the semifinal heats after her 2:06.81 performance in Thursday’s preliminary round but also finished 14th overall Friday. Crossing the line in 2:06.00, Banks placed sixth in her heat and just short of reaching Eugene again.
Duke rebounded for the final day of competition Saturday.
Returning to the track and hoping to qualify for the national championships in her second distance event with just a day of rest in between, Bottorff again placed herself at the front of the pack early. Pacing her heat with Abby D’Agostino of Dartmouth, Bottorff crossed the line in 15:58.78. She earned an automatic qualification for Eugene by finishing second in her heat behind D’Agostino and placed third overall.
In the final event of the night, the Blue Devils surprised the field and themselves in the women’s 4-x-400 meter relay, earning their first NCAA Championship qualification in the event in school history. Juniors Lauren Hansson and Elizabeth Kerpon, redshirt sophomore Teddi Maslowski and freshman Madeline Kopp broke their own school record by more than three seconds en route to a third-place finish in their heat and automatic qualification to Eugene.
“Amazing, amazing race,” director of track and field Norm Ogilvie said. “They knocked Miami out. They did a fantastic job. Everybody is really excited right now.”
Hansson led off the relay, positioning Duke in third and passing the baton to Kopp, who holds the Blue Devil record in the open 400 meters. Maslowski split an impressive 53.45 seconds to keep Duke in third, and Kerpon anchored with a 53.47-second split to cross the line three-hundredths of a second ahead of Clemson with a final time of 3:33.09.
“[Saturday’s performance] shows you we’re resilient,” Ogilvie said. “We had a really good day Thursday… I felt like we were on top of the world. We had a pretty rough day Friday and a rough start [Saturday]. Things just weren’t going our way. Juliet set us up with a fantastic 5,000. Then the 4x4 runs a school record, and every leg was fantastic.”