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Duke track and field qualifies 4 for NCAA outdoor championships at regional meet

Redshirt junior Thomas Lang punched his ticket to the NCAA championship meet in the javelin this weekend in Jacksonville, Fla. | Chronicle File Photo
Redshirt junior Thomas Lang punched his ticket to the NCAA championship meet in the javelin this weekend in Jacksonville, Fla. | Chronicle File Photo

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.—Associate head coach Shaun Wilbourn was so confident that pole vaulters Megan Clark and Madison Heath would advance to their first national championship meet that he bought their tickets to Eugene, Ore., Thursday morning—before either Blue Devil attempted her opening height at the regional qualifying meet.

Duke punched four tickets to the NCAA championships this weekend, finishing in the top 12 in three events and advancing from the three-day East Regional championships at North Florida's Hodges Stadium.

Clark and Heath opened the meet for the Blue Devils Thursday afternoon and set the tone for the weekend by qualifying easily. For Clark—a junior and the silver medalist at the indoor national championships—earning the trip to Eugene was long overdue. For the freshman Heath, joining Clark in the postseason had been Heath’s goal since the beginning of the season.

“This is a big relief for Megan,” Wilbourn said. “She was a little anxious and she said she didn’t sleep well before, and it all stems from what happened last year [when her pole broke]. But she is a different vaulter from last year. And we’ve been preparing [Heath] for this. I’ve really tried to be positive with her and letting her know that she belongs and that she can make it to Eugene.”

The rookie notched a personal best of 13 feet, 9 1/4 inches to win the pole vault at the Mt. Sac Relays April 17. Thursday, Heath cleared her first three heights on her first attempt, with her last jump at 13 feet, 8 1/5 inches. But she did not get a chance to attempt a new personal best because only 12 vaulters cleared the height, and officials closed the competition.

“I was kind of nervous coming out because I felt that I definitely could make nationals, but anything can happen in a meet,” Heath said. “I just went out there with the goal of doing my personal best, and then whatever place I ended up with was just going to be the place I ended up with.”

Clark opened at 13 feet, 8 1/5 inches. Clearing the mark on her first attempt, she qualified for the NCAA championships with just one jump.

“It means a lot to me that I’m going to Eugene for the first time,” Clark said. “I’ve worked really hard and it never really worked out before, so I’m glad that a lot of things came together here. I feel like I was a lot more prepared to handle all the stresses because of everything I had to deal with in the past.”

Throwers Erica Brand and Thomas Lang joined the pole-vaulting duo on the NCAA championship roster Friday.

Entering the meet as the 13th seed, Brand focused on producing a solid mark on her first throw in hopes of advancing past the regional competition for the first time since her sophomore campaign in 2012. Hurling the discus 180 feet, 3 inches, the graduate student broke her own school record by more than two feet and placed herself at the top of the leaderboard. Falling back only one more place through the next two rounds, the Shawnee, Kan., native finished second overall.

Wrapping up the men’s javelin at nearly the same time, Lang found himself in a different position—just outside the top 12 heading into the final throw. But the redshirt junior was no stranger to coming from behind after doing so to win the ACC outdoor title. Launching the javelin 228 feet, 8 inches, the Royersford, Pa., native jumped into third and earned his second straight qualification to Eugene.

“I guess maybe subconsciously I realize that my back is up against the wall and I really don’t have any more opportunities to give it another shot,” Lang said. “I just really let it all hang out. I try to take a deep breath, be relaxed and just not think about what I’m doing.”

On the track, Duke fell just short of qualifying for the national championships.

Sophomore Madeline Kopp broke her own school record twice in the 400 meters, finishing 11th in 52.76 seconds Thursday to advance to Friday’s quarterfinal. She lowered her record to 52.74 seconds but finished 13th, one place short of Eugene’s semifinal.

Kopp teamed up with seniors Elizabeth Kerpon and Lauren Hansson and freshman Maddy Price in Saturday’s 4-x-400 meter relay. But despite breaking the school record, the Blue Devils again fell short of their national championship hopes. Running a combined time of 3:32.27, Duke finished fifth in the final heat and 14th overall, less than two-tenths of a second slower than Mississippi State, the 12th-place qualifying team.

The four Blue Devils advancing from Jacksonville will join Teddi Maslowski in Eugene June 10-13. Maslowski earned her spot at the NCAA championships with her performance in the heptathlon at the Mt. Sac Relays. After advancing to the quarterfinals of the 100-meter hurdles Friday, the redshirt junior withdrew from event and the long jump Saturday to prevent injury.


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