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Duke track and field standouts eye NCAA season-best marks at Penn Relays

<p>Megan Clark&nbsp;hopes to match the NCAA record in the pole vault in the coming weeks.</p>

Megan Clark hopes to match the NCAA record in the pole vault in the coming weeks.

This time last year, a female pole vaulter clearing 15 feet was breaking news.

This season three women have already accomplished the feat—with two weeks still left until the postseason.

Senior Megan Clark posted the NCAA’s season-best mark and third-best all-time of 15 feet, 2 1/4 inches to cap her final performance in front of a home crowd last weekend at the Duke Invitational. Less than 12 hours later, she had dropped one spot on both lists after Arkansas' Alexis Weeks cleared 15 feet, 2 3/4 inches.

The Blue Devils’ top field performer will have her next chance to set a new season-best mark nationally Thursday when she headlines Duke’s three-day trip to Philadelphia for the Penn Relays.

After her school and ACC record-setting jump, Clark raised the bar to 15 feet, 5 3/4 inches to try to match the NCAA record held by Razorback Sandi Morris. The senior nearly cleared it on her second and third attempts, lifting her body over the bar but not quite able to avoid touching it.

“I’m really excited I had the opportunity to attempt [the record],” Clark said. “I look forward to being able to put in more work and hopefully jump higher than that next time. We’ve been working really hard this season and I’m glad to be able to [jump a personal record] outdoors. I struggle a little more outside with the wind and figuring out which poles to be on. I feel like we’ve made a lot of changes and I’m in a really good place.”

With her vault of 15 feet, 2 1/4 inches, Clark surpassed the NCAA season-best mark of Miami’s Alysha Newman, who broke the 15-foot barrier for the first time in her career—indoors or outdoors—by an inch at the Miami Hurricane Alumni Invitational April 8. Weeks now holds the top mark, but this season’s 15-foot club may have to make room for one more as Demi Payne of Stephen F. Austin—the 2015 outdoor national champion who boasts a collegiate best of 15 feet, 5 1/2 inches—is poised to jump back into contention for the 2016 title. 

Graduate student Shaun Thompson has had fewer challengers for his national top time in the 10,000 meters. The Baldwinsville, N.Y., native finished as the top collegiate performer at the Mt. Sac Relays April 14 with a time of 29:47.48, but no collegiate harrier has approached that time in the past two weeks. In fact, other than the performances of Thompson, Campbell’s Amon Terer and Drake’s Reed Fischer in Walnut, Calif., the top 20 has remained unchanged since April Fool’s Day.

But Duke’s distance specialist will be knocking a few kilometers off his race slate this weekend as he will compete in the 5,000-meter individual race and Duke’s 4-x-1,500-meter relay and will have to watch the top heats of the 10-kilometer race in Philadelphia take aim at his time.

“I don’t anticipate it staying the top mark through the next couple weekends because there are some big meets coming up,” Thompson said after the Mt. Sac Relays race. “But I’m very happy to be able to call myself the leader right now. There are a lot of fast people in the country and I have no doubt that they are going to start showing their times soon.”

Clark and Thompson are not the only Blue Devils vying for some of the best performances of the season nationally.

Redshirt senior Teddi Maslowski holds the 17th-best heptathlon score to date from her 5,569-point performance at the Mt. Sac Relays. The Burgettstown, Pa., native will not compete in the full slate of seven events if her score remains in the top 24 through the end of the season—she will save her energy for the outdoor national championships.

Maslowski is slated to have a busy weekend on the track at the Penn Relays, as she is entered in both the 100- and 400-meter hurdles and as the lead-off leg of the women’s 4-x-400-meter relay.

Nineteenth-ranked Thomas Lang will look to improve on his season-best javelin performance of 237 feet, 2 inches from the Beach Invitational April 15 as he closes out his regular season Saturday.

Lang, like the rest of the Duke squad, seems to be improving as the season progresses.

“I definitely agree that we are peaking at the right time,” Duke director of track and field Norm Ogilvie said. “The only challenge we have heading into Penn is making sure we don’t let finals overwhelm them. If we get that handled, we should have a great Penn Relays. We’re bringing our largest group ever, and we are looking forward to three big days.”

The Penn Relays will also give the Blue Devils the opportunity to compete in a handful of events rarely contested in the usual collegiate-meet schedule, including the 4-x-200 meters, 4-x-1,500 meters and sprint medley relay. The women will only field one quartet for an unusual relay—the women’s 4-x-200 composed of India Lowe, Madeline Kopp, MacKenzie Kerr and Maddy Price—and the men’s squad is slated to compete in the others.


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