Most of the Blue Devil squad will use this weekend’s meet as a rust-buster after spring break and the end of the indoor season before heading into the Battle of the Blues April 1-2, but for some athletes, the first opportunity to don the team uniform in 2016 could set the tone for the rest of the year.
Duke will head to N.C. State’s Dail Soccer Field and Track Complex and Paul Derr Track in Raleigh for the two-day unscored adidas Raleigh Relays meet starting Friday with most of the squad competing in its first meet since the indoor ACC championships. But for two Blue Devils, Friday and Saturday’s competition will mark their 2016 debut.
Graduate student Shaun Thompson will return to the track to wrap up his collegiate career after sitting out the indoor season. The Baldwinsville, N.Y., native had redshirted the 2015 outdoor and cross country campaigns for an extra year of training in preparation for the Olympic Trials, and will use this final outdoor season to gear up for a chance to qualify for a trip to Rio de Janeiro. Redshirt senior Thomas Lang will also pick up the javelin again as the team’s lone male returner from the 2015 outdoor national championship roster.
“Having both our All-Americans back will be great for us,” Duke director of track and field Norm Ogilvie said. “They offer leadership, experience and calm under pressure—Thomas is a guy who won his last two ACC championships on his sixth throw. We are excited to have them back, especially since they have the potential to get a lot of points for us.”
Thompson recorded two top-five finishes at the 2014 outdoor ACC championships before redshirting last season, crossing the line fourth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase with a time of 8:58.14 and fifth in the 5,000 meters in 14:03.57. But he ran faster at the longer distance two years ago at the season opener in Raleigh, crossing the line in 13:58.82 for the fourth-fastest time in Duke history.
“Shaun is going to specialize in the 10,000 [meters] outdoors this season, and he’ll open that up at the Raleigh Relays,” Ogilvie said. “We’re thinking this may be the event that he’s going to try to go after the Olympic Trials in, but he’s never run a 10K on the track before. But he ran some great 10Ks in cross country, and that’s what we’ve been training him for.”
Lang—the 2014 and 2015 ACC javelin champion—capped his penultimate season with a personal-best and school-record throw of 237 feet, 10 inches on his final attempt to capture sixth place and All-America honors at the 2015 NCAA outdoor championships in Eugene, Ore. The Royersford, Pa., native will look to make another statement in his final months in a Blue Devil uniform, starting with his first throws in competition since June.
The Blue Devils wrapped up last year’s two-day event with a total of 15 top-10 finishes against representatives from more than 25 schools. True to the meet’s name, Duke delivered its highlight performances in the relays, winning the men’s 4-x-800 meters and tallying three second-place finishes.
But the women will not have a single member of their runner-up relays return to toe the line at the Paul Derr Track. With the graduation of sprinters Dorehn Coleman, Alexis Roper, Callie Francis and Alexis Buttinger, the Blue Devils will look to reload its short-distance relays with the freshman talent of Domonique Panton and India Lowe. But Duke may not be able to call upon Sydnei Murphy yet because the touted recruit suffered a knee injury in the triple jump at the Armory Collegiate Invitational in February.
The women’s 4-x-800-meter relay also lost then-seniors Francis, Buttinger and Abby Farley, and Haley Meier opted to transfer. But freshman Kim Hallowes could make the move to the shorter distance after serving as the leadoff 1,200-meter leg on the Blue Devils’ distance medley relay that earned second-team All-America honors with an 11th-place finish at the NCAA indoor championships March 11.
Duke will also be pressed to find replacements for Elizabeth Kerpon and Lauren Hansson, who led the women’s 4-x-400-meter relay to the 2015 NCAA indoor championships and nearly qualified for the outdoor meet before their graduation. NCAA outdoor championship veterans Maddy Price and Madeline Kopp will return to lead the squad after breaking new ground as the middle legs of the indoor distance medley relay.
“The two Madelines are the heart of the relays, and we have some exciting freshmen who are running really well,” Ogilvie said. “We have plenty of people who can sprint. The women’s team will be very good—hopefully we can put it all together outdoors.”
Previewing its new outdoor relay lineups will be the first step for the women’s squad to build off its 21st-place team performance at the national indoor meet. This weekend’s contests will serve as the Blue Devils’ first opportunity in 2016 to showcase their skills on a full 400-meter track in hopes of moving up into the top 25 after ranking 33rd in the outdoor preseason poll.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.