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Banks sets program record in 800 for Duke track and field

The senior's time all but guaranteed herself a spot at the NCAA indoor championships

<p>Senior Anima Banks shattered the program record in the 800 meters Friday in Boston.</p>

Senior Anima Banks shattered the program record in the 800 meters Friday in Boston.

Senior Anima Banks fell short of qualifying for the NCAA indoor championships last year, but when her final time lit up on the scoreboard Friday afternoon, any doubt that she would compete on the national stage in 2016 disappeared.

Shattering her personal record and the program record in the 800 meters with a time of 2:03.41, Banks jumped from 12th to second in the national rankings as the first collegiate harrier across the line at the David Hemery Valentine Invitational in Boston.

“I came through the line and knew that it was going to be a good time, assuming a 2:04, and then I waited that three seconds for the time,” Banks said. “When it came up on the scoreboard, I actually started crying I was so excited. I’ve never had that kind of breakthrough before.”

The Mamaroneck, N.Y., native had clocked a new personal-best with a converted time of 2:05.10 in the elite heat of the 800 meters at the Camel City Invitational Jan. 29—good for the then-12th fastest time in the nation—but ran a 2:06.48 to win the Armory Collegiate Invitational Feb. 6. Heading into Friday’s race in Boston, she hoped to break into the 2:04 range to increase her chances of holding a top-16 time by the end of the qualifying period March 2.

Banks took out the first 200 meters in 28.8 seconds, battling for the lead with three professional runners and held fourth through the 400-meter mark in 59.8 seconds. She had moved into third with 200 meters to go and recorded a final split of 31.9 seconds as she pulled into second. Nike’s Lynsey Sharp claimed the win with a meet record time of 2:00.30.

“We were hoping to go fast, but it was quite a shock when we saw the scoreboard light up with 2:03. Dropping that amount of time was pretty sensational,” Duke assistant coach Matt Lopiccolo said. “The pressure is off now. Getting the qualifying times is a little bit of a stressor without the regional qualifying meet that we have for outdoor. Now she can concentrate on winning races and going after an ACC title.”

Banks will take aim at the ACC championship in the 800 meters in Boston Feb. 25-27 before turning her attention toward All-American honors at the NCAA indoor championships March 2-3 in Hoover, Ala.

The 4-x-400 meter relay squad of Teddi Maslowski, India Lowe, Madeline Kopp and Maddy Price joined Banks in the winner's circle at the Boston University Track and Tennis Center by finishing first in their event, and sophomore pole vaulter Madison Heath cleared a new personal-best height for the win at the High Point Panther Team Challenge.

The relay quartet crossed the line in 3:39.18, outpacing the rest of the field by more than eight seconds. But by shaving .62 seconds off Duke’s season-best from the Armory Invitational, the squad fell short of its goal of moving up the national rankings for a championship berth.

“We were hoping to run faster—we figured 3:35 flat would get us to nationals,” Lopiccolo said. “But I think after last year we had such a phenomenal year, running 3:32 and finishing sixth in the country, so our standards are set pretty high right now. But this quartet is second-fastest for Duke with 3:39, so take it with a grain of salt.”

Heath made the short trip to Winston-Salem, N.C., hoping that a new season-best vault would bring her closer to advancing to the national stage. The 2015 NCAA Outdoor championship qualifier won the event with a new career-best of 13 feet, 9 3/4 inches, moving up from 29th to 17th in the national rankings.

“We missed that meet because of the snow [Jan. 22-23], and Madison is just getting better rapidly every day,” Duke associate head coach Shaun Wilbourn said. “So I knew that just getting another meet under her belt that she would improve. The plan is to get her qualified for NCAAs, and she’s really close now—she’s probably seven to eight centimeters [two and three quarters to three inches] away from what it’s going to take.”

By the time Heath performed her first vault of the competition, only one other athlete in the flight of 12 was still jumping—Tori Bertrand of West Virginia. The Blue Devil sophomore cleared her opening mark of 12 feet, 8 inches on her first attempt after passing on the first eight heights. Heath and Bertrand both hit the bar on their first pass at 13 feet, but Heath sailed over the mark on her second attempt to clinch the victory.

As the only one left in the competition, the Mandeville, La., native had little rest in between her attempts at the ensuing heights, but cleared 13 feet, 5 1/2 inches and 13 feet, 9 inches on her second tries, earning a new personal best.

“She had to go rapidly because she was the only one left, so she got a little fatigued,” Wilbourn said. “But once we get into a good meet like Virginia Tech next weekend or ACCs, she showed she’s capable of going well over 4.30 [meters], and that will be good enough to make NCAAs. I’m excited about her progress and we are looking forward to the next couple of meets.”

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