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Duke track and field ships up to ACC indoor championships trying to continue momentum

<p>Senior Megan Clark will take aim at first place in the pole vault at the ACC indoor championships.</p>

Senior Megan Clark will take aim at first place in the pole vault at the ACC indoor championships.

After wrapping up the regular season with their highest ranking in program history, the Blue Devil women will face three more squads in the national standings as they aim to add their highest-ever finish at the conference championships to a season already full of highlights. 

Duke will kick off the three-day ACC indoor championships in Boston Thursday with big goals in mind, including setting up the women’s squad for a top-15 finish at the NCAA championships with an early look at top contenders from No. 9 N.C. State, No. 13 Notre Dame and No. 18 Miami. 

The No. 16 Blue Devil women already have three individual athletes and one relay in good position to compete on the national stage in Hoover, Ala., March 11-12 but will look to add multi-event athlete Teddi Maslowski and pole vaulter Madison Heath to that roster.

 “We have big goals for this season, and one of them is having the highest finish we’ve ever had at the NCAA indoor meet. This is an important stepping stone to that,” Duke director of track and field Norm Ogilvie said. “Teddi is vital. The two biggest things we can do for the women’s NCAA chances are to qualify Teddi and Madison.”

Maslowski has not completed in the pentathlon this season after withdrawing from the competition at the Tobacco Road Cup in January due to a lingering ankle injury. But the redshirt senior is cautiously optimistic about her chances of posting one of the top 16 scores in the nation in her first full five-event contest of 2016 after breaking her own school record in the 60-meter hurdles twice at the Virginia Tech Challenge last weekend, lowering the mark to 8.34 seconds.

“I’ve been let down a lot about injuries. I almost didn’t run [last weekend] because my ankle was hurting because of long jump,” Maslowski said. “I have no idea how I PRed…. That did get me hyped for ACCs because if I can do that under those conditions, hopefully I can run even faster this week.”

A strong performance in the hurdles during the pentathlon Thursday will take some of the pressure off of the jumping events that cause Maslowski the most pain, but the Burgettstown, Pa., native will still compete in Friday’s long jump.

“The long jump is my favorite. Coach [Shawn] Wilbourn—I’m not really sure he wanted me to do it, but it’s my senior year—asked me if I wanted to,” Maslowski said. “I want to do the multi for sure and try to go to nationals in that, so I might as well try in long jump to get points for the team. It’s hard to pass that opportunity up.”

Heath will also aim for a nationals spot in the pole vault, joining Megan Clark, who cleared her goal of 4.6 meters earlier this year to set the top mark in the nation. Heath advanced to the NCAA outdoor meet in Eugene, Ore., last year through the Southeast regional qualifier but will need to produce a personal best mark Friday for a shot at Hoover. The sophomore sits 20th in the national standings with a top clearance of 13 feet, 9 3/4 inches and will need to clear at least 14 feet to break into the top 16.

Three Blue Devil women have all but punched their tickets to the national championships by posting marks well within the nation’s top 16 in their signature events.

Redshirt senior Karli Johonnot won the pentathlon at the Tobacco Road Cup with a converted score of 4,304—good for the then-top mark in the country and current fifth-highest total. Senior Anima Banks shattered the Duke record in the 800 meters and posted the then-second-fastest time in the nation for the top finish by a collegiate harrier at the David Hemery Valentine Invitational Feb. 12 with a time of 2:03.41. The Mamaroneck, N.Y., native holds the conference’s top seed into Friday’s preliminary heats but will face tough competition from 2015 NCAA outdoor championship qualifiers Hanna Green of Virginia Tech and Elizabeth Whelan of North Carolina.

Clark will also be challenged this weekend as she will face off against Miami’s Alysha Newman for the second time this season. The pair pushed each other to new school records and a conference record for Clark at the Armory Collegiate Invitational, where the Hurricane vaulter cleared 14 feet, 9 inches and the Blue Devil became just the fourth collegiate vaulter in history to surpass 15 feet with a mark of 15 feet, 1 inch.

The women’s distance medley relay of Kim Hallowes, Maddy Price, Madeline Kopp and Banks posted the 10th-fastest time in the nation with a converted time of 11:04.27 but will not be the top-seeded quartet on the track. Clemson and Notre Dame have posted season-best times of 11:00.44 and 11:00.73 to lead the conference.

The Blue Devil men will face an uphill battle for a top finish in their distance medley relay, needing to break out of the second heat as the 10th-seeded squad despite running away with the win at the Virginia Tech Challenge in 9:50.66.

“We couldn’t control the out-of-town scoreboard,” Ogilvie said. “But we dominated our event, and that was all we could do. We are just going to have to do the same thing we did at Virginia Tech, which is to run hard on our own and make it happen.”

Shot putter Stephen Boals enters his final conference championships with hopes of his third podium finish in as many years but will face the toughest field to date. The redshirt senior’s program record stands at 59 feet, 7 inches, but he will likely need to throw farther than 60 feet to bring home hardware from his final indoor competition.

“I’m definitely looking to make an impact and improve on the past years,” Boals said. “It would definitely be nice for me to go out on a high note and to see all the guys do well. We have a lot of amazing athletes this year, and it’s kind of a culmination for me since I’ve been on the team for a long time.”

The competition will get underway Thursday with the women’s pentathlon featuring Maslowski, Johonnot and freshman Jaida Lemmons and the men’s heptathlon, which will include Tanner Johnson, Robert Rohner, Chaz Hawkins and Connor Hall.

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