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Duke track and field sends 9 to NCAA championship

<p>Senior Anima Banks is the No. 1 seed in the women's 800 meters and hopes to conclude her Duke career on a high note.&nbsp;</p>

Senior Anima Banks is the No. 1 seed in the women's 800 meters and hopes to conclude her Duke career on a high note. 

The Blue Devil women were not ranked all season, but heading into the NCAA championship the Duke women are seeded 24th and coming off some of their best performances of the year. 

Nine Blue Devils—including eight women—will compete in six events at the NCAA outdoor championship at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., Wednesday through Saturday, with the men and women alternating event days for the second straight year. Last year, the only Duke points at nationals came from Thomas Lang in the javelin, but the Blue Devil women are poised to get on the board this time around.

Although Lang did not qualify for the national championship this year, senior Anima Banks is the top-seeded woman in the 800 meters and has her eye on more than securing points for her team. 

“Goal number one for Anima and a few of our other top athletes is to get first team All-American, to get up on the podium,” Duke director of track and field Norm Ogilvie said. “It’s so large a test of having nerves of steel when you get to this level.”

Banks—who has secured a spot in the U.S. Olympic Trials—is coming off two of the best meets of her career in the season's first two postseason events. The veteran set a personal best in the 800 meters at the ACC championship with a time of 2:02.50, only to beat that time by .01 seconds at the NCAA East preliminary round for the second-best time in school history.

The Mamaroneck, N.Y., native reached the NCAA championship during her freshman season, when she finished 17th, as well as during the 2013 and 2014 indoor seasons. Banks’ time of 2:02.49 from May 27 is the sixth-best in the country this year, but was good enough for a first-place finish at regionals and the top seed at NCAAs.

“It’s going to take the biggest race of her life,” Ogilvie said. “What I’m encouraged by is, she used to be solely a front runner. But at the regionals she actually ran from behind and won.”

Senior Megan Clark enters the NCAA championship as another favorite to score points for Duke in the pole vault. Another Olympic trials qualifier, the Fort Benning, Ga., native posted the fourth-best height ever this outdoor season and has runner-up finishes at the 2015 and 2016 indoor NCAA championships.

Sophomore Madison Heath will join Clark competing in the pole vault this week. 

Redshirt senior Teddi Maslowski enters the national championship with a chip on her shoulder after competing at NCAAs in the 4-x-400 meter relay in 2014 and heptathlon in 2015 but failing to reach the podium. This year, the Burgettstown, Pa., native will get a crack in each event, though Ogilvie may replace her in the relay with Banks since the relay finals come directly after the 800-meter portion of the heptathlon.

The Blue Devil relay team of Maslowski, Madeline Kopp, Maddy Price and MacKenzie Kerr set the third-best time in program history May 28 at NCAA regionals with a 3:33.39 mark. Maslowski and Kopp were part of the same relay team that finished 17th at the 2014 NCAA championship, but—like Banks, Clark and Heath—will hope to use their previous experience to their advantage.

“The experience calms your nerves,” Ogilvie said. “I don’t think we’re going to have any deer in the headlights bumps going around.”

Graduate student Shaun Thompson, the team’s lone male competitor, will lead off the week for Duke Wednesday evening in the 10,000 meters, which will be just his fourth-ever track and field race in that event. The Baldwinsville, N.Y., native posted the fourth-best 10,000-meter time in the country April 15 at the Mt. Sac Relays in his second 10,000 meters ever.

Thompson sat out last year to train for the U.S. Olympic Trials, a dream that might not come true given the hot temperatures and championship strategy. But after reaching the 2014 NCAA indoor championship and 2015 cross country championship, Thompson has once last shot to be a first-team All-American.

“He’s one of the fastest competitors in the race…. Our best case scenario is it being hot from the beginning,” Ogilvie said. “It shortens up the race if they run it slow early. Instead of it being a 10,000-meter test, it becomes a 6,000- or 5,000-meter test.”

Rounding out the list of Blue Devils is senior Madison Granger, who will run the 1,500 meters after battling injuries for months this year and previously never faring better than 17th at regionals. But the No. 19 seed shattered her personal best by more than four seconds at the ACC championship with a time of 4:18.67 before posting times of 4:20:86 and 4:20.49 at regionals to reach Eugene.

“We’re rounding into form,” Ogilvie said. “You don’t want to start out ranked number 10 and flip to 24. If you’re going to be 24, you might as well be it for the first time. And hopefully, as the week gets older, we’ll be ranked higher. I really think we’re capable of that.”

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