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Duke track and field readies for start of indoor season at Carolina Cup

<p>Megan Clark will start working toward "Project Four-Sixty" Friday in Chapel Hill.</p>

Megan Clark will start working toward "Project Four-Sixty" Friday in Chapel Hill.

The Blue Devils are back in the saddle and ready to come running out of the gates at their first meet of the indoor season.

Duke will kick off the 2016 campaign at the Carolina Cup in Chapel Hill at Eddie Smith Field House at 5 p.m. Friday with the No. 16 Blue Devil women looking to claim their third consecutive team title.

The Duke men have taken second in each of the past two seasons, finishing 19 points behind North Carolina in 2015.

“Our goal is to win both titles,” Duke director of track and field Norm Ogilvie said. “It’s hard to tell how realistic of a goal that is because it’s the first meet of the season for everybody and there’s not a lot to go on. On paper, East Carolina and UNC are the teams that will threaten us the most, and it should be a very competitive meet.”

With a trio of All-ACC seniors at the helm, the Duke women earned the second-highest preseason ranking of any ACC team, coming in just behind No. 15 N.C. State. Pole vaulter Megan Clark and multi-event specialists Karli Johonnot and Teddi Maslowski will look to build on last season’s success, with Clark’s sights set on a national title and Johonnot and Maslowski seeking All-America honors.

Clark earned the silver medal at the 2015 NCAA championships in Fayetteville, Ark., with a school-record clearance of 14 feet, 9 inches. The Fort Benning, Ga., native’s goal is to complete “Project Four-Sixty”—what she and associate head coach Shawn Wilbourn have termed the 4.60-meter mark. By clearing 4.60 meters—15 feet, 1 inch—at the 2016 national championships, Clark would tie the current NCAA meet record.

Johonnot and Maslowski hope to qualify for the NCAA championships in the pentathlon as well as their stronger individual events in which they hold program records. Johonnot earned her spot on the 2014 national meet roster in the high jump but fell short last season, finishing fourth at the ACC championships with a mark of 5 feet, 8 3/4 inches. Maslowski boasts Duke’s top all-time performance in the pentathlon, 60-meter hurdles and long jump. The Burgettstown, Pa., native advanced to the NCAA championships in the long jump last season, where she finished 10th with a mark of 20 feet, 1/4 inches.

The women’s squad also returns the majority of its roster that contributed 12 first-place finishes en route to the overall victory last year, but Duke lost two of its key point contributors to graduation—sprinters Lauren Hansson and Elizabeth Kerpon.

Hansson and Kerpon teamed up with current junior Madeline Kopp and sophomore Maddy Price for a sixth-place finish in the 4-x-400 meter relay at the 2015 indoor national championships in a school record time of 3:32.56.

But the Blue Devils are looking to reload more than just their relay with the Class of 2019.

“We had this outstanding 4-x-4, and we lost two of the seniors,” Ogilvie said. “But we have an outstanding freshman class, and we actually think we may be better this year—and that’s saying something when we had two people as good as Lauren and Elizabeth.”

The women’s squad will debut four sprint specialists at the Carolina Cup—MacKenzie Kerr, India Lowe, Domonique Panton and Sydnei Murphy. Kerr claimed gold in the 400 meters at the 2014 Virginia 5A State Meet as a junior and will look to make a bid for a leg on the Blue Devils’ relay at the same distance. Lowe and Panton recorded strong times in the shorter sprinters but will also bolster Duke’s roster in the jump events.

But Murphy will look to make an immediate impact across the board. The Raleigh News & Observer’s Female Athlete of the Year wrapped up her final high school indoor season by earning three gold medals in the 55-meter sprint, long jump and triple jump with the top time and top marks in the state of North Carolina.

“She is fantastic in both the long and the triple jump and also a very good sprinter,” Ogilvie said. “She will be contributing in a lot of ways. She is probably the star of the freshman class.”

On the men’s side, Duke suffered its biggest losses to graduation on the men’s distance medley relay. Nate McClafferty, Brian Shoepfer and Henry Farley wrapped up their final ACC indoor championships with a second-place finish with current junior Chaz Hawkins in a combined time of 9:43.15. With Hawkins returning for the 400-meter leg, the Blue Devils will replace their 800-, 1,200- and 1,600-meter harriers with both veteran and fresh talent.

Ogilvie will look to a familiar face to help rebuild the squad as 800-meter specialist Jordan Burton steps into McClafferty’s shoes as the mile runner. The sophomore competed in his first cross country season last fall build a distance base in preparation for his new role on the track.

Junior pole vaulter Connor Hall will also be trying his hand at six new events this indoor season, making the jump to the pentathlon for the 2016 indoor season.

“He’s going to take his pole vault talents and combine them with other events to see how that turns out,” Ogilvie said. “He’ll vault this weekend, but his training has been focused on 10 events, so his pole vault may actually suffer a little bit. But we think that it’s a good way for him to go, and he’s happy about it.”

Burton, Hall and the Duke freshmen will make their debuts Friday, starting with the field events at 5 p.m. and the track events at 6 p.m. 

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