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Duke track and field aiming to divide and conquer at 3 different meets

<p>The Blue Devils will split up for several different meets throughout the weekend.</p>

The Blue Devils will split up for several different meets throughout the weekend.

With one weekend left before the conference championships, the Blue Devils will split up in search of the nation’s best competition to prepare them for the postseason.

Most of the squad will head to Blacksburg, Va., for the Virginia Tech Challenge Friday and Saturday, but the women’s distance contingent will compete in the one-day UCS Invitational in Winston-Salem, N.C., and pole vaulter Megan Clark will represent Duke at the prestigious Millrose Games in New York Saturday.

The Blue Devils competing this weekend will be shooting for ACC championship automatic cuts, which are based on the average 10th-place finish at the meet from the past five years.

“The qualifying standards are very, very tough. And then in every event, you get wildcards,” Duke director of track and field Norm Ogilvie said. “We also have to consider the total roster limitation of 30. We won’t know who we are taking to ACCs until this weekend is complete, except for those who have the auto-qualifiers.”

The goal of earning national championship berths will also weigh heavily on the Blue Devils' minds as only the top 16 athletes in individual events and top 12 relay squads in the country by the end of the qualifying period March 2 will be invited to compete in Hoover, Ala., March 11-12.

Duke normally takes advantage of Virginia Tech’s Rector Field House multiple times during the indoor season to get its athletes qualified for the championships, but the Blue Devils have not made a trip to Blacksburg yet this season.

“This is a great facility for our last chance to qualify for ACCs,” Ogilvie said. “They have a fast track and great runways, so we usually go four times during the season. But this year with the snow, this will be our only trip to Blacksburg.”

For three seniors of Duke’s No. 17 women’s squad, the pressure is off for advancing to the NCAA championships and they can focus on their final meets before the postseason.

Redshirt senior Karli Johonnot will headline the 46-athlete squad bound for Blacksburg. Johonnot posted the nation's then-highest score in the pentathlon with a converted 4,282-point win at the Tobacco Road Cup Jan. 22. Her mark now stands as the sixth-highest total in the country and will likely remain in the top 16 through the qualifying period. But the focus for this weekend will be improving individual-event marks before completing the full slate of five for the conference championships in Boston next week.

Anima Banks will race in Winston-Salem with seven of her distance teammates, seeking to add the distance medley relay to her national championship slate. The Mamaroneck, N.Y., all but punched her ticket to Hoover at the David Hemery Valentine Invitational last weekend, finishing as the top collegiate harrier in 2:03.41—good for the second-fastest time in the nation so far this season.

The women’s distance squad will also compete in the 800 meters, mile and 3,000 meters.

Clark is also assured a trip to Hoover since she became just the fourth collegiate vaulter in history to clear 15 feet with her new school-record mark of 15 feet, 1 inch at the Armory Invitational Feb. 6. But the Fort Benning, Ga., native will look to set the bar higher Saturday as she competes against a field of fiveprofessional vaulters, including 2015 NCAA indoor and outdoor champions Sandi Morris and Demi Payne, respectively.

“The Millrose Games is the world’s largest and most prestigious track and field meet, and she got a special invitation. The meet wasn’t even originally on the schedule until she was given the opportunity to compete," Ogilvie said. "It will be great exposure for her and the program to be with the best pole vaulters in the world.”


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