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Duke track and field travels to Specs Town Invitational

<p>The Blue Devils will look to start fast Friday and continue that momentum into Saturday at the Spec Towns Invitational in Athens, Ga.</p>

The Blue Devils will look to start fast Friday and continue that momentum into Saturday at the Spec Towns Invitational in Athens, Ga.

Fresh off their strong performances for a home crowd at the Battle of the Blues, the Blue Devils will head south chasing warmer weather and regional qualifying standards.

Duke will compete at the Spec Towns Invitational in Athens, Ga., Friday and Saturday, taking on some of the top teams in the ACC, SEC and Big 12. With just four meets and five weeks left before the conference championships, the Blue Devils will shift their focus from team competitions to improving individual performances. 

This weekend’s competition will provide a mix of new and familiar faces, and every event is slated to feature at least one of the nation’s top contenders.

“It’s a national team invitational, which is basically eight to 10 powerhouse conference schools coming today for some really good competition,” Duke director of track and field Norm Ogilvie said. “We wanted an away meet that was reasonably close, and since we’re still in the early part of the spring, to head down for some warmer weather.”

The Blue Devils will square off with the Tar Heels for the second consecutive weekend after Duke outscored North Carolina women at the Battle of the Blues and came up short on the men’s side. Ogilvie’s squad will also get its first look at a pair of ranked SEC teams in Kentucky and Georgia.   

The No. 9 Wildcat women are led by dominant sprinters and hurdlers. Jasmine Quinn and Jacklyn Howell are both ranked in the top 10 in the 100-meter hurdles and also contribute to the fourth-ranked 4x100 relay. Kia Seymour ranks third in the nation in the 400-meter hurdles, and Kentucky boasts the 10th-ranked 4x400-meter relay squad.

With strength in the field events, the No. 11 Bulldog men will aim to post the meet’s top marks in the throws and the decathlon, in which three Georgia athletes rank in the top 20. Duke did not take part in the 10-event contest as the men’s decathlon and women’s heptathlon wrapped up Thursday, but could face Maicel Uibo, Karl Saluri and Devon Williams in their strongest individual events.

The jumpers will likely headline the Bulldogs’ performances on the women’s side. Four Georgia high jumpers rank in the top 15—including top-ranked Leontia Kallenou—and three long-jumpers in the top 10, and Keturah Orji holds the top spot in the triple jump.

But Duke could keep the Georgia women from sweeping the jumps with top performances in the pole vault. Senior Megan Clark and sophomore Madison Heath have already posted new outdoor career bests of 14 feet, 9 1/2 inches and 14 feet, 1 1/4 inches, respectively. Heath claimed the top spot at the Raleigh Relays and Clark won the event at the Battle of the Blues.

Unlike the four-hour Battle of the Blues meet, Duke will get some help from the two-day format this weekend as its top athletes will be able to compete in multiple events without wearing themselves out, a schedule that will be especially beneficial for top distance harrier Anima Banks. The Mamaroneck, N.Y., native is entered in both Friday’s mile and Saturday’s 800 meters—her signature event.

A handful of Blue Devils will be absent from this weekend’s lineup, including graduate student Shaun Thompson and the multi-event specialists. The group will take the weekend off to prepare for the four-day Mt. Sac Relays in Walnut, Calif., starting Wednesday, where Thompson will be competing in the second 10,000 meters of his career.

“We made up this schedule in the airport immediately after the NCAA cross country championships,” Ogilvie said. “We wanted to lay out the whole plan heading up to the Olympic Trials, and so far we have done two of the things on that list—the 10K at Raleigh and the steeplechase at Battle of the Blues. Mt. Sac is probably the best opportunity to run a really fast 10K.”

Iyin Battle and Michael Foley will kick off the Spec Towns Invitational with the men’s discus at 2 p.m. Friday, and redshirt senior Teddi Maslowski and freshmen India Lowe and Jaida Lemmons will be the first Blue Devils on the track with the women’s 100-meter hurdles at 4:30 p.m.

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