Both the Blue Devil men and women were competing in their first NCAA Championships since 2012, and they made sure to make the most of the opportunity.
Duke's men's and women's cross country squads finished 16th and 27th, respectively, Monday at the NCAA Championships in Stillwater, Okla.
The men's performance was particularly impressive—they entered the meet as one of just four unranked teams in the 30-team field, but outperformed all of their unranked peers as well as four top-15 squads en route to their best finish in the NCAA Championships since 2001.
"We kind of knew all along that we were capable of doing it," senior co-captain Alex Miley said. "I think what made it so shocking was the fact that so many other running communities out there thought that we would honestly end up last or close to. I mean, we were unranked and then getting 16th...I would say internally, that was something that we knew we were capable of doing it.... But when you really get it done, I mean, it's something special. Just all of us after the finish line, just looking at each other, like, this is a new era."
Miley led the way, finishing in 68th in the 251-person race. The Minnesota native sat in 169th place after the first two kilometers of the 10-kilometer course, and just 80th entering the final kilometer, but gave it his all down the final stretch in the last cross country race of his Blue Devil career.
"Just going in, it was [fellow senior] Paul Dellinger and I's last race wearing a Duke uniform and it's our last cross country race that we're ever going to have most likely. And I think that's something going in as a senior, you've put [in] a lot of effort throughout the years," Miley said. "And I just think, like, running for the guys. That was something that when we were meeting all together for dinner, we looked at each other and we knew [that] we were going to run for the the guys that were also wearing the Duke Blue Devils jersey.... I just wanted to put it all out there."
Head coach Rhonda Riley was also quick to praise the performances of Miley and Dellinger.
"They're both seniors, and they're going to be graduating this year and won't be able to be running for us next year," Riley said. "And they just ran with a lot of heart and really just put it out there."
Senior Josh Romine followed Miley in 96th place, with Dellinger, sophomore Zach Kinne, senior CJ Ambrosio, freshman Jared Kreis and junior Chris Theodore finishing in 106th, 114th, 153rd, 155th, and 170th, respectively.
On the women's side, senior Michaela Reinhart led the way for the Blue Devils just as she has for nearly every race this season, finishing in 112th in the six-kilometer, 256-person race. But Duke's next finisher came as somewhat of a surprise, with freshman Victoria Patterson clocking in at 142nd place.
Patterson finished a mere ninth on the team and 91st overall at the ACC Championships in October.
"The individual that really stands out [for the Blue Devil women] probably would be freshman Victoria Patterson," Riley said. "She just ran with such confidence and poise and was able to be second for us. And that's a great result for a freshman."
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Sophomore Samantha Schadler, seniors Sara Platek and Amanda Beach, sophomore Caroline Howley and freshman Charlotte Tomkinson rounded out the squad in 146th, 163rd, 216th, 218th and 223rd place, respectively.
Most of the team now has their eyes set on the outdoor track and field season, which is set to begin this weekend at the Bob Davidson Invitational in High Point, N.C. But there's something different between the multitude of events during a track meet and the singular goal of a cross country race, something departing seniors such as Miley will undoubtedly miss.
But like he said, this could be the start of "a new era" for Duke cross country, with Miley and his teammates doing their job to pave the way.
"Being the last cross country race for me—trying to be a leader on the team is something I've really focused on and it's been important to me," Miley said. "But as we move forward next year for cross country, we have great leadership on our team and we have guys coming back.... There were a lot of alumni that were staying connected with the race and nationals, and they're going to continue doing that for outdoor [track and field], but I think it's just the cascading snowball effect. I mean, there's eight of us that went to nationals, but it's every guy on the team. If you look from top to bottom, guys are committed, and that kind of culture goes a long way."