With no spectators and fewer than half the teams than even Duke’s smallest races have had in the past, Friday’s opening meet was certainly different.
But just like everyone else in 2020, the Blue Devils found a way to make it work.
Duke’s men’s and women’s cross country teams each placed second in the three-team Virginia Tech Invitational in Blacksburg, Va., with each side edging out Virginia Tech but falling decidedly behind N.C. State.
The Wolfpack won the men’s race with a score of 19, with their top five runners finishing in first, second, third, fifth and eighth overall, respectively. The Blue Devils followed suit with 51 points, while the Hokies rounded out the scoring with 58 points.
On the women’s side, N.C. State swept the field, with the team’s five leading runners all placing within the top-five to hand the Wolfpack a perfect score of 15. Duke placed second with 48 points while Virginia Tech finished with 78.
But with Oct. 30’s ACC Championships being the sole determinant of final conference results, this meet was more about adjusting to the unique racing environment than anything else.
“I think the energy around racing is very helpful,” sophomore Samantha Schadler said. “Especially when you're out in the middle of a course and there's not that many people around, we really rely on the spectators and things. But honestly, it wasn't too bad [without spectators]. We had our teammates and our coaches there for us, and so the support was still there.”
As usual, it was seniors CJ Ambrosio and Michaela Reinhart leading the way for the Blue Devil men’s and women’s teams, with each coming in at sixth place in their respective races.
But it was the placement of the rest of the top-seven on each side that was the story Friday.
For the women, senior Amanda Beach impressed with an eighth-place finish overall, second on the team. As freshmen in 2017, her and Reinhart finished as the top two runners for the Blue Devils in each of the six races they competed in together.
But over the past two seasons, Beach only garnered one total top-two finish on the team. Her return to form this year could have a huge impact on Duke’s hopes to place in the top-three in the ACC.
“It has been great having [Beach] back,” head coach Rhonda Riley said. “Her and Michaela [have] been doing a great job working together in practices and just gaining a lot of confidence. It just reminds me of their freshman year when they worked together side by side, and I feel like we have that dynamic duo back this year.”
Get Overtime, all Duke athletics
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Finishing right behind Beach at ninth overall Friday was Schadler, who also set a six-kilometer personal record with a time of 21:27.3. Schadler came to Duke last year as one of the most decorated high school runners in Arizona history, and after showing flashes of her potential as a freshman is prime for a breakout sophomore campaign.
“Really happy with Sam,” Riley said. “She’s extremely talented, and one thing that we have been working on daily is just her confidence. And she put it together today.”
Rounding out the top seven for the women was junior Helen Williams, freshmen Charlotte Tomkinson and Victoria Patterson and junior Clara Savchik in 14th, 15th, 19th and 21st place, respectively, in the 40-person race.
On the men’s side, sophomore Zach Kinne, seniors Paul Dellinger and Alex Miley and sophomore Rory Cavan placed 9th, 11th, 12th and 13th overall behind Ambrosio.
But it was freshman Jared Kreis’ finish at 15th overall that impressed the most.
“[Kreis] just ran with so much—just a lot of confidence as a freshman,” Riley said. “He was mixing it up with the top guys in the ACC and he hung really, really strong and we just need to work on that last [kilometer] for him. He has it—he has the mentality and is an extremely talented freshman for us.”
Senior Mike Ungvarsky rounded out the top seven for the men at 18th overall in the 39-person race.
N.C. State, Duke and Virginia Tech entered the meet ranked fourth, eighth and seventh in the Preseason ACC Coaches Poll on the men’s side, and first, eighth and ninth on the women’s side.
Duke’s next race will take place Oct. 7 at the N.C. State Invitational in Cary, N.C.