It was almost déjà vu. With just two competitors left in the women’s pole vault, Megan Clark found herself sharing the runway of the indoor national championship with an Arkansas vaulter for the second straight year.
And just like the 2015 national championships, the senior secured the silver with a mark of 14 feet, 9 inches and the Razorback claimed the title with a new meet record.
Clark’s second-place performance highlighted the Blue Devils’ weekend at the NCAA indoor championships at the Birmingham CrossPlex in Birmingham, Ala., contributing all but one of Duke’s nine points for the team’s second straight year finishing 21st.
“This year seemed a lot like last year, but I came into it with a completely different mindset,” Clark said. “Last year, I wasn’t really expected to do that well and this year I went in as the co-leader. It was a different strategic competition, too. I was trying to PR, but I was also trying to win.”
Entering the competition well before the bar reached her personal-best height of 15 feet, 1 inch, Clark faltered at an early height, unable to clear 14 feet, 1 1/4 inches on her first two attempts. But the Fort Benning, Ga., native overcame the scare on her third and final attempt to stave off the end of her final collegiate indoor season.
“To come back from that is always really challenging. But I really like taking third attempts—it drives my coach crazy,” Clark said. “On your third attempt you are really just trying to do whatever it takes for clearance. It’s really stressful to get to the third attempt but I really like it because it’s a different kind of adrenaline.”
The next few heights were smooth sailing for the 2016 ACC champion, and after her clearance of 14 feet, 9 inches on her first attempt, only Clark and freshman Alexis Weeks of Arkansas were left to battle for the title.
The Blue Devil barely grazed the bar at 14 feet, 11 1/4 inches on her first pass and elected not to take her next two attempts at the height to save her energy for clearing 15 feet. But Clark could not clear her personal-best height of 15 feet, 1 inch. Weeks mastered the height and also cleared 15 feet, 2 1/4 inches for the win, meet record and collegiate freshman national record.
“Two years in a row as first-team All-America is great on anybody’s resume. But the important thing is that she made the NCAA champion have to jump a PR to beat her,” Duke director of track and field Norm Ogilvie said. “She didn’t have that ultimate height in her, but credit to the Arkansas girl who is just a freshman for being able to clear a PR when it counted the most.”
Clark was not alone on Duke’s highlight reel. Racing in her first individual event at a national championship, senior Anima Banks claimed a spot in Saturday’s 800-meter finals with a time of 2:04.67 in Friday’s semifinals to advance in sixth to the eight-runner championship heat.
The women’s distance medley relay was next to toe the line for the Blue Devils.
With Banks needing to rest her legs for the next day, senior Olivia Anderson got her chance to run in her first national championships, filling in for Banks as the mile leg on the relay.
Freshman Kim Hallowes carried the baton for the opening 1,200 meters, clocking in at 3:29.30. Sprinters Maddy Price and Madeline Kopp handled the middle 400 and 800 meters, with Price splitting 53.78 seconds and Kopp 2:11.29. Anderson brought the race home for Duke in 4:50.10 for a final time of 11:24.47 for 11th overall.
“Olivia was definitely excited,” Ogilvie said. “If I had said a year ago that Olivia would have been anchoring the distance medley for Duke at the national championships, you would have given me a look. But she has worked incredibly hard to come back from an injury-filled junior year. I know this inspires her to do great things outdoors.”
But the rest of the meet did not unfold as the Blue Devils had hoped.
Banks got off to a strong start in the finals of the 800 meters, splitting 29.87, 32.43 and 33.03 seconds on for the first three 200-meter marks and was just 0.06 seconds behind the lead harrier with 200 meters to go. All eight runners in the heat were running in a tight pack, so Banks made a move to pass on the outside.
But then she fell.
Recovering, Banks finished the race in 2:15.09 for eighth but still earned first-team All-America honors.
“Anima put herself in position to win. She could have won the whole thing—we’ll never know,” Ogilvie said. “She got knocked to the track. My first response was to file a protest, and the officials did a great job in reviewing all of the footage.… There was no flagrant contact. She just got caught in traffic, and that’s part of indoor track.”
Multi-event specialist Karli Johonnot also suffered disappointment in Friday’s pentathlon. The redshirt senior tallied 969 points in the opening 60-meter hurdles with a time of 8.72 seconds but would not compete in the remaining four events. Johonnot withdrew from the competition due to aggravation of her Achilles tendon injury.
“It’s sad that we are all done competing indoors. But we go outside next week and get to start over,” Clark said. “We faced a lot of adversity this meet, but we are a team that will come back stronger. Karli will be back soon and healthy, and Anima will work harder than she ever has to redeem herself.”
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