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Nine Duke track and field standouts qualify for NCAA championship at East preliminary round

<p>Senior Madison Granger (left) qualified for the NCAA championship in the 1,500 meters this weekend.</p>

Senior Madison Granger (left) qualified for the NCAA championship in the 1,500 meters this weekend.

Less than two weeks after combining for 13 All-ACC performances at the ACC championship, the Blue Devils returned to the Sunshine State to secure nine bids to NCAAs.

Nine Duke athletes finished in the top 12 in six events and advanced to the NCAA Outdoor national championship at the three-day NCAA East preliminary round Thursday through Saturday at the University of North Florida’s Hodges Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla. The Blue Devils improved on their 2015 regional performance, when five Duke standouts earned spots at nationals.

Distance runners Anima Banks and Shaun Thompson and seven other Duke competitors will now have less than two weeks before they conclude their 2016 campaigns in Eugene, Ore., June 8-11.

“This weekend was about going down and getting the job done,” said Norm Ogilvie, Blue Devil director of track and field. “[There] were some really clutch performances under pressure, and these kids came through in a big way.”

Banks punched her ticket to the national championship by finishing first in the women’s 800 meters. The senior’s time of 2:02.49—which also bested the final results of the women’s 800 meters in the NCAA west regional—was a hundredth of a second faster than the time she posted at the ACC championship, when she finished second in the event. 

“She is one of the favorites going into nationals…she is someone who can certainly contend for the national championship,” Ogilvie said. “That was tremendous on her part.”

Thompson also qualified for nationals when he placed eighth in the men’s 10,000 meters.

The graduate student, who was seeded second, started the race off in the middle of the pack, but gained the lead and increased the pace at around the midway point before narrowly losing in the final 150 meters—his time of 30:05.28 was just 2.28 seconds slower than that of first-place Amon Terer of Campbell.

Ogilvie said that he was impressed with the way Thompson—who often benefits from faster paces—handled the race’s initially slow pace as well as the overall hot and humid weather conditions. 

“[It was] very nerve-wracking to watch. But tactically, [it was] a beautiful 10,000 meters,” Ogilvie said. “Because you have to come back and run another 10,000 in just 13 days, you probably want to expend as little energy as possible.”

Among the other Blue Devils to secure a trip to the NCAA championship were women's pole vaulters Megan Clark and Madison Heath, who both cleared the bar with jumps of 13 feet, 11 1/4 inches to finish in the top 12 and get back to Eugene.

“They’ve pulled it off. Megan is at the top of her game as a senior,” Ogilvie said. “Hopefully, we can score with two vaulters at the national championships.”

A day later, senior Madison Granger qualified for nationals for the first time in her career thanks to a fifth-place finish in the women’s 1,500 meters. The Belchertown, Mass., native completed her heat in the quarterfinals in 4:20.49 after finishing the preliminaries Thursday with a time of 4:20.86.

Duke’s 4-x-400 meter women relay team of Teddi Maslowski, Madeline Kopp, MacKenzie Kerr and Maddy Price rounded out the Blue Devils who secured a bid for nationals with a 10th-place finish of 3:33.39—the third-fastest time in school history. 

The NCAA berth occurred after the Duke relay squad competed in the national championship in 2014 but failed to advance past regionals in 2015.

Maslowski—who also qualified for nationals in the heptathlon earlier in the spring—and Kopp started the relay off strong, combining for a 1:47.74 split before Kerr ran a 53.80 on the third leg. Price finished the final 400 meters in 51.86.

“All these people came through when they had to,” Ogilvie said. “Last year…they came up a little bit short and were terribly disappointed. [Kopp and Price] came back from that team and had a chance for redemption. Those two girls did beautifully in the last two legs of the race.”

Despite Duke’s overall success at the regionals, several competitors were unable to qualify for a spot at the NCAA championship, including Blue Devil standouts Thomas Lang and Madeline Morrow.

A redshirt senior, Lang attempted to notch a third consecutive appearance at NCAAs in the javelin but came up short. The two-time All-American finished 16th with a throw of 214 feet, 1 inch.

Morrow—who won a silver medal at the ACC championship—finished tied for 36th in the women’s high jump after clearing 5 feet, 5 1/4 inches to conclude her final season in Durham.

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