The Blue Devil men were expected to finish 14th out of the 15 teams competing at the ACC Outdoor Championships. Entering the second day of competition, the squad was tied for last without any points on the board.
But the decathletes and field event specialists stepped up Friday and Saturday, helping Duke exceed expectations and jump up in the team rankings.
The Blue Devils wrapped up the three-day conference competition in Tallahassee, Fla., Saturday with three gold medals, four silver and two bronze, eight first-team All-ACC honors and eight second-team All-ACC honors. The men finished sixth overall and the women finished eighth.
The men's javelin epitomized the turnaround. Thomas Lang—the defending champion in the event—had thrown for 217 feet, 11 inches, and was sitting in sixth heading into Saturday's final round. In 2014, the redshirt junior had been third before the final throw.
Lang stepped to the line for his final attempt and hurled the javelin 231 feet, 8 inches, surpassing Virginia Tech’s Jaka Muhar’s mark by almost three feet to repeat as the come-from-behind ACC champion.
“He was in more dire straits [this year],” director of track and field Norm Ogilvie told GoDuke.com. “He’s done that twice in a row for the ACC title now. He’s got nerves of steel and produces when it matters most.... It was like hitting a buzzer-beater.”
Reigning ACC champion Robert Rohner paced a trio of Blue Devil decathletes for the first five events of the competition. Entering the second day of the event, the junior led the field with 3,953 points. But freshman Tanner Johnson and senior Ian Rock made a day-two surge up the scoreboard from fifth and sixth, respectively, in the final five events for a one-two finish.
Rock cleared the top height in the pole vault with a jump of 16 feet, 3 1/2 inches, to move into third—just 25 points short of the lead. Johnson remained in fifth with two events to go, but Rohner had fallen from first to fourth after the 100-meter hurdles and discus throw.
Rock and Johnson threw themselves into the top spots with their marks in the javelin. Johnson turned in a distance of 187 feet, 5 inches, to jump up to second, and Rock threw for 184 feet, 9 inches, to claim the lead. The Duke teammates were separated by just 20 points heading into the final event.
The rookie took off in the 1,500 meters. Finishing in 4:33.35, Johnson surpassed the senior for the title, finishing with a total of 7,281 points. Rock claimed the silver with 7,261 points and Rohner finished fifth with 7,070 points.
The Blue Devils’ success continued as sophomore Connor Hall earned his first All-ACC honors with a second-place performance in the pole vault Saturday. Clearing three heights on his first attempt, the San Luis Obispo, Calif., native finished with a top clearance of 16 feet, 7 1/2 inches.
“It was a really great team effort, the best we’ve come together,” Ogilvie said. “Coming into the meet, if you went straight off the performance list, the Duke men were supposed to score 22 points. Instead, we score 53 points. They absolutely competed to the best of their abilities.”
On the women’s side, junior Megan Clark was poised to claim her first ACC outdoor title from the first jump. Clearing 14 feet, 1 3/4 inches, and 14 feet, 5 1/2 inches, on her first attempts, Clark held the lead as the bar moved up to 14 feet, 9 1/2 inches. Miami’s Alysha Newman had elected to pass until that height, but Clark claimed the title when both competitors failed to clear the final height because of her clearances at the lower heights.
“Megan is the best in the ACC, hands down,” Ogilvie said. “She proved that by winning the indoors, getting second at [indoor] NCAAs and then came out today and was clearly the best. We’re excited about the postseason and Jacksonville and Eugene for her.”
Duke earned four more podium finishes Thursday and Friday.
Graduate student Erica Brand concluded the final conference meet of her career with a second-place finish in the discus. Throwing for 170 feet, 6 inches, on her first attempt, she claimed the lead but fell back one spot in the remaining rounds as Louisville’s Emmonnie Henderson blew away the competition with a mark of 182 feet, 1 inch.
Redshirt juniors Teddi Maslowski and Karli Johonnot each gave the Blue Devils a bronze medal with strong performances in the jumps. Maslowski gave her best jump of the competition on her third attempt, landing at 20 feet, 2 1/2 inches, in the long jump to put the women’s squad on the board Thursday. Johonnot took third in the high jump, clearing 5 feet, 8 3/4 inches.
The women’s 4x400 meter relay of seniors Lauren Hansson and Elizabeth Kerpon, sophomore Madeline Kopp and freshman Maddy Price broke the school record and claimed the silver Saturday. Duke held the lead for the first 1,500 meters of the race but fell behind Notre Dame on the final leg, finishing with a combined time of 3:32.40.
The Blue Devils will head back to Florida May 28-30 for the NCAA East Regional Championships in Jacksonville. The top 12 finishers in each individual event and top eight relays will advance to the national championships in Eugene, Ore., June 10-13.
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