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Thompson leads Duke track and field squads out to California

The graduate student will continue his quest to qualify for the Olympic Trials in the 10,000 meters

<p>Shaun Thompson will try to take the next step in qualifying for the Olympic Trials in the 10,000 meters this weekend.</p>

Shaun Thompson will try to take the next step in qualifying for the Olympic Trials in the 10,000 meters this weekend.

Shaun Thompson has a plan for his Olympic Trials berth in the 10,000 meters. He crossed step one off his list March 25 at the Raleigh Relays—when he ran the race for the first time on the track. 

Now, the graduate student will aim to complete the next step of the process.

With Robbie Perkin’s 30-year-old program record of 28:56.80 in his sights, Thompson will look to headline the Blue Devils’ performances this weekend as the squad splits up for two meets on the West Coast. The Baldwinsville, N.Y., native, will compete alongside three multi-event specialists and the women’s 400-meter sprinters in the four-day Mt. Sac Relays starting Wednesday in Walnut, Calif. Duke will also send a contingent of six throwers to the Beach Invitational in Long Beach, Calif., Friday and Saturday. Pole vaulters Megan Clark and Madison Heath will be doing double duty for the Blue Devils as they are slated to compete at both meets in the Golden State.

“This is a big weekend for us—we are sending three volleys of athletes out to California,” Duke director of track and field Norm Ogilvie said. “We are sending a relatively small portion of the team, but these are the guys that have done some really special things for us.”

As one of the few Blue Devils heading into this weekend’s contest with a full week of rest after not competing at the Spec Towns Invitational last weekend, Thompson has high hopes for his first 10-kilometer race since the Raleigh Relays—and only the second of his career.

Thompson battled for the win in March with Jacob Thomson of Kentucky, finishing just behind the Wildcat in 29.02.18 as the two recorded the then-fastest 10,000-meter times in the nation. The Duke harrier's time now stands as the seventh-best so far this outdoor season, but he will aim to shatter the 29-minute barrier Thursday at Cerritos College’s Falcon Stadium.

“I took that first race out very cautiously, but I will be more aggressive next time,” Thompson said after the season opener in Raleigh. “I was focused on making sure I had enough energy for the end of the race because 10 kilometers is a long race. Next time, I know I can take it out with more confidence and focus some on racing.”

But before Thompson toes the line Thursday night, Teddi Maslowski, Karli Johonnot and Chaz Hawkins will kick off the Mt. Sac Relays Wednesday at the Cougar Stadium of Azusa Pacific University.

Maslowski set the team record in the women’s outdoor heptathlon at this meet last season, posting a total score of 5,706 and knocking down the individual 100-meter hurdle and long jump records in the process. During the indoor season, Johonnot broke her classmate’s record in the pentathlon—one Maslowski set at last year's ACC championships—to punch her ticket to the NCAA indoor championships at the Tobacco Road Cup Jan. 21 with a converted score of 4,304. 

But on the first day of competition in Hoover, Ala., Johonnot aggravated a lingering Achilles tendon injury in the 60-meter hurdles and was forced to withdraw. The Las Vegas native has competed in just a few events so far in the outdoor season—the 100-meter hurdles, long jump and javelin at the Battle of the Blues April 2.

“I don’t think she’s 100 percent, but [associate head coach Shawn] Wilbourn made the decision that she should go out and take a shot because you don’t get very many opportunities to compete in a full multi event,” Ogilvie said. “It’s important to get one in before conference [championships].”

Hawkins will compete as Duke’s lone representative in the men’s decathlon—his first 10-event contest of the season and first since his freshman campaign in 2014.

Sprint specialists Mackenzie Kerr, Maddy Price and Madeline Kopp will compete in the 400-meter dash with Kerr and Price running in Friday’s open section and Kopp in Saturday’s invitational race. All three harriers will compete again in Saturday’s 4-x-400-meter relay, with Maslowski rounding out the quartet.

Clark and Heath will first take the runway Friday in Walnut before making the drive to Long Beach to compete in the pole vault again Saturday.

The Blue Devils' Beach Invitational squad will also feature a trio of women’s throwers—Urina Harrell in the shot put, Christine Streisel in the javelin and Stefani Vukajlovic in the hammer throw. On the men’s side, Michael Foley will represent Duke in the hammer throw, and Thomas Lang will compete in his signature javelin toss alongside freshman Nicholas Solfani.

“[Long Beach] is an especially good place for the throws because of the winds they have off the Pacific Ocean,” Ogilvie said. “Plus, our guys will have some good competitions, so we’re hoping for good marks.” 

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