Last year went down in the record books as the best women’s cross country season Duke has ever seen.
The Blue Devils finished first in the ACC and second in the nation. Sally Meyerhoff finished first overall at the ACC Championships. Duke placed four runners in the top 50 at the ACC Championships.
But this year, the Blue Devils have their sights set even higher.
With five of the seven runners that ran at the National Championship meet returning, including the top four finishers, the Blue Devils have their sights set on the first national championship in women’s cross country in Duke’s history.
“I know that this year we’re a little bit deeper, so I think our one to five spread could be better,” head coach Kevin Jermyn said. “I just hope that our first, second, third and fourth [runners] can move up a couple slots and that’s really all we can do.”
Depth was already a strong point for Duke last year; five of Duke’s eight competitors in the ACC Championship finished in the top 10. With the addition of 12 new freshmen and the return of most of the key parts of last year’s team, Jermyn hopes his team can achieve its goals by improving individual performances across the board.
“We’re just trying to focus on what each individual needs to do to be better themselves,” Jermyn said. “So multiply that by five or seven or however many people we have on the team and you get yourself a much better team.”
Although Jermyn said that Blue Devil standouts this year could be from any class, the senior class appears strongest. Seniors Sally Meyerhoff, Shannon Rowbury and Natasha Roetter achieved All-America honors in cross-country last year.
“We have more seniors than we’ve ever had before,” Jermyn said. “For many of them this would be their last [NCAA] championship meet and the fact that we could improve on last year definitely could be internalized as extra pressure. Right now, I think they’re very, very confident in terms of they all feel very, very prepared to do better than they did in the past season.”
In addition to physical preparation, the team’s focus and mindset will prove to be essential to Duke’s success this season.
“There’s a lot of work to be done and a lot of mental preparation and stuff,” senior Laura Stanley said. “So much of cross country is mental in the end because once you get to the NCAAs everyone’s good. I think we just really need to work on being a unit, and I can already tell we’re stronger. I think everyone knows what we can accomplish, we just have to get it done.”
The Blue Devils will host North Carolina Central University to open their season Sept. 7 in Durham, From there, all roads lead to Terre Haute, Ind., Nov. 21—home of the 2005 NCAA Championships.
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“I feel very, very confident that we have the talent and the experience to really be better and stronger than we were last year,” Jermyn said.