Distance runners shine in NCAA championships

When senior Liz Wort crossed the finish line of the 3,000-meter steeplechase in a Duke record-breaking time of 9:51.76, earning All-American honors, it didn't just signify the end of her successful Blue Devil career.

It marked the end of an era.

Wort, along with fellow senior Sally Meyerhoff, was the last member of one of the strongest recruiting classes to ever attend Duke. And they both laced up their shoes for the final time last weekend at the NCAA championships in Sacramento, Calif.

In October 2002, Track and Field magazine ran a story that asked how Duke, "a school known more for its men's hoops, attracted a bumper crop of women that one might have expected to show up at Stanford instead of Durham, N.C.?"

Five years later, what is most impressive about that group-which included Wort, Meyerhoff, Shannon Rowbury, Clara Horowitz and Laura Stanley-is not the hype that surrounded them before they came to Durham, but the accolades they won after.

"When that class came in five years ago, there was talk about them being one of the best recruiting classes ever," head coach Norm Ogilvie said. "And they lived up to those lofty expectations."

With her second All-American caliber race, Wort joins Horowitz, who was an All-American in 2005 and 2006, and 2006 All-American Meyerhoff, in adding to the unprecedented success of her class.

Meyerhoff, who battled injury throughout the outdoor season, finished 15th in the 10,000-meters Saturday, helping the Blue Devils to finish in a tie for 27th place.

"Sally's been a great runner for us," Ogilvie said. "When she showed up to the line Thursday night, she was not in the shape she was in March-but what she did was a credit to her and to this school. The 10,000-meters is not something you can fake. She's always been a warrior and a super competitor."

While Meyerhoff and Wort are now the past for the Blue Devils, sophomore Maddie McKeever is one of the runners who can figure prominently into the future, filling the big shoes left behind by the exiting senior class.

McKeever set a Duke record of her own Saturday, breaking the mark she set Thursday in the preliminaries for the 5,000-meters by 13 seconds. Clocking a 15:52.83, McKeever finished fourth and earned All-American accolades.

"I surpassed my own expectations," McKeever said. "I performed up to what would have qualified to what were my wildest dreams."

Ogilvie said McKeever's performance at the NCAAs was the perfect finish for what "has truly been a breakout year," in which she became the first sophomore to win All-American honors three times in one year. She is the third Duke athlete to ever accomplish that feat.

McKeever placed 14th in the NCAA Cross Country championships in November 2006 and ninth in the 3000-meter indoor race, to garner her other two All-American awards.

Despite losing key seniors, Ogilvie is optimistic for next year's team, which returns McKeever in addition to field stand-outs Diana Purcurs (javelin) and Lara Jones (pole vault), both of whom qualified for the NCAAs.

"We've got a lot of things to look forward to," Ogilvie said.


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