Sydnei Murphy, Jeremy McDuffie lead Duke track and field at Penn Relays

<p>Sydnei Murphy took home two third-place finishes in the long jump and as a part of the sprint medley relay team.</p>

Sydnei Murphy took home two third-place finishes in the long jump and as a part of the sprint medley relay team.

In the 120-plus year history of the Penn Relays, the renowned competition has seen its fair share of Olympians as well as top collegiate and high school athletes grace the track at Franklin Field.

This weekend in Philadelphia, some Blue Devils got to join that group for the first time.

With Duke splitting its track and field squad between the 123rd Penn Relays and the Virginia Grand Prix at Lannigan Field in Charlottesville, Va., plenty of Blue Devils were able to put their best feet forward in their last weekend of regular-season competition before a break for finals and the ACC championships in two weeks.

Sophomores Sydnei Murphy and Jeremy McDuffie captured third- and fourth-place honors in their respective events in Philadelphia—Murphy in both the long jump and sprint medley and McDuffie in the triple jump. Further south at Virginia, senior Connor Hall took first place in the pole vault and sophomore Rivers Ridout finished second in the high jump.

But for Duke director of track and field Norm Ogilvie, a strong showing against some of the best athletes in the country at the Penn Relays was a positive sign with the Blue Devils' most important meets of the season still to come.

"Each day is different because the crowds build each day," Ogilvie said. "It's very motivational for our guys to compete, and this year we've had some great weather on top of that. We had some pretty good things happen each day."

Murphy opened the weekend for Duke with a mark of 20 feet, 1 1/2 inches in the long jump Thursday afternoon before joining the Blue Devil women's sprint medley team Friday evening. The Apex, N.C., native along with fellow sophomores India Lowe and MacKenzie Kerr and senior Madeline Kopp took the bronze with a time of 3:47.30—well behind an Oregon team that shattered the meet record by more than 2.5 seconds.

Saturday, it was McDuffie's turn to shine just as he has at recent events—the multi-sport star tied a Duke record in the triple jump, leaping 51 feet, 11 3/4 inches to wind up fourth. He narrowly missed out on a third-place finish, as Penn State's Bryce Williams topped him by a quarter-inch.

Both Murphy and McDuffie have quickly emerged as standouts in the early portions of their track and field careers in Durham, but to those who have seen them develop, it has been of little surprise.

"What makes them both special is that they're great athletes," Ogilvie said. "[Sydnei] is very talented and she listens to what she's instructed by the coaches and she executes and follows through.... Jeremy is obviously a good athlete too—he's been playing on the Duke football team. What makes him special is he can do so many skills very well."

Although the Blue Devils posted several positive performances in Philadelphia, they also struggled in multiple events. Outside of a fourth-place finish in the women's 4-x-800-meter competition—the second-fastest time in program history at 8:32.26—Duke wound up in the bottom half of the women's distance and men's sprint medley relays as well as the men's 4-x-800.

Back in Charlottesville, Hall's first-place showing in the men's pole vault set a school record at 17 feet, 3 inches, as he outpaced his nearest competitors by almost seven inches. The Blue Devil female pole vaulters also excelled, with freshman Laura Marty, junior Madison Heath and sophomore Nati Sheppard taking second through fourth places.

Ridout continued his excellence in the high jump as he finished in second and sophomore Stefani Vukajlovic placed fourth in the women's hammer throw at 192 feet, 3 inches.

Now, with a lengthy two-week gap before the Blue Devils venture to the ACC championships at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Duke's athletes will have to balance taking their finals and staying in shape as they prepare to make their mark on the conference stage.

"There's really nothing you can do about it. You're not allowed to compete during finals," Ogilvie said. "Now we'll get into 'playoff mode'.... We always put finals first, and then if you've got time to come out for a few hours [to practice], you do that."

Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak." 


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