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Madison Heath wins ACC indoor pole vault championship for Duke track and field

during the 2017 ACC Indoor Track and Field Championship in South Bend, In., Friday, Feb. 24,
2017. (Photo by Jared Hamsher, theACC.com)
during the 2017 ACC Indoor Track and Field Championship in South Bend, In., Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. (Photo by Jared Hamsher, theACC.com)

For two years, Madison Heath watched as veteran Megan Clark rewrote the record books in the women’s pole vault, won ACC titles with ease and represented the Blue Devils on the national stage.

With Clark graduated, now it’s Heath’s turn to shine—and the junior is making the most of it.

Heath claimed the ACC indoor title in the women’s pole vault this weekend to highlight Duke’s ACC championship performances Thursday through Saturday in South Bend, Ind. With the victory, Heath qualified for the NCAA indoor championships in two weeks—for which only 16 competitors qualify—and gave the Blue Devil women an early boost as they finished sixth with 44.5 points. Senior Madeline Kopp claimed first-team All-ACC accolades with a masterful race in the 800 meters Saturday, and Duke’s 4-x-400-meter relay took second place.

Despite positing some of the best finishes in program history, the Blue Devil men struggled against stiff competition, finishing 13th out of 15 teams.

Even with what Duke director of track and field Norm Ogilvie described as a “historic” level of competition, Heath was able to rise above the competition with a vault of 13 feet, 11 1/4 inches to give the Blue Devils their third straight ACC women’s pole vault champion.

“It is the hardest meet to make in the country,” Ogilvie said of the indoor national championship meet, noting that it is even more selective than the U.S. Olympic trials. “She’s a worthy ACC champion—our third in a row. She learned under one of the best in Megan Clark, and now she’s one of the best.”

Kopp also has a chance at qualifying for the NCAA indoor championship after posting a blistering 2:04.60 in the 800-meter final Saturday to finish second and notch the third-fastest time in program history. A dedicated sprinter, the senior only started running the 800 meters this year, beginning the year with a 2:11.99 run to place first at the Carolina Cup in January and running 2:08.75 at the Armory Invitational three weeks ago.

In just her third 800-meter event final, Kopp shed several more seconds off her time to give her team eight points.

“She ran faster than [Olympian] Shannon Rowbury did in college at the same event, so she’s got a bright future ahead,” Ogilvie said, adding that Duke will find out Kopp’s NCAA championship fate later in the week—her time currently ranks 15th nationally.

Kopp was also part of the Blue Devils’ standout 4-x-400-meter relay team with sophomore MacKenzie Kerr, sophomore Sydnei Murphy and junior Maddy Price. The quartet posted the second-fastest time in team history with a 3:36.25 finish, good enough for a second place and first-team All-ACC honors. Price carried the unit to that mark with a 52.80-second anchor leg. The Hillsborough, Calif., native also ran the second-fastest time in Duke history with her 53.85-second finish in the individual event, though she finished eighth.

In individual competition, Murphy continued her standout long-jump season by taking second with a leap of 20 feet, seven inches. The personal-best mark was good enough for first-team All-ACC honors and the second-longest jump in Duke history.

The women’s distance medley relay team of Kerr at the second leg along with sophomore Kim Hallowes, freshman Brittany Aveni and sophomore Liz Lansing contributed points with a seventh-place finish in 11:21.71, giving the underclassmen-laden group momentum to carry forward.

The Blue Devils also showed depth at the pole vault in addition to Heath’s top-level talent, as freshman Laura Marty finished fourth and sophomore Nati Sheppard earned sixth.

On the men’s side, many athletes posted their best performances of their season but struggled to find their spot on the scoreboard. This disparity was highlighted by the men’s 4-x-400-meter relay running the second-fastest time in Duke history but only finishing 11th, just short of seven seconds behind the first team. Although this may be one of the fastest Blue Devil men’s teams in recent memory, its competition has improved just as much.

Brett Bofinger set a personal record of 47.94 seconds in the 400 meter prelims to highlight the men’s sprinters’ success—the junior finished 16th and notched the second-fastest run in program history.

In men’s mid-distance, freshman Matt Wisner was close to both of his goals at the ACC championship, but fell just outside of the final eight for the 800 meters with a time of 1:50.10. Wisner set the Duke record in the event, which makes his exclusion from the finals even more astounding—his time was the fastest ever for runner failing to qualify for the finals.

Wisner also ran the 1,200-meters for the distance medley relay, which finished eighth with a time of 9:46.31 Thursday by cutting about nine seconds off its most recent finish from the Armory Invitational. In addition to Bofinger and Wisner, redshirt senior Michal Filipczak and senior Alec Kunzweiler made major contributions.

Turning to field events, the Blue Devils found some success in the high jump with sophomore Rivers Ridout and junior Colt Sessions, who finished seventh and eighth with jumps of 6 feet, 11 1/2 inches and 6 feet, 9 3/4 inches, respectively.

Duke also picked up another eighth-place finish with senior Connor Hall’s pole vault of 16 feet 8 3/4 inches.

The bulk of the Blue Devil men’s points came with fourth- and fifth-place performances in the heptathlon by graduate Daniel Golubovic and senior Chaz Hawkins.

“The men’s team competed really well, but sometimes you don’t see the results on the scoreboard because it’s just so competitive with 15 teams competing and only scoring eight places,” Ogilvie said.

Those not advancing to the NCAA indoor championships will have about a month off before opening the outdoor season at the Raleigh Relays March 24-25.

Amrith Ramkumar contributed reporting.

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