Duke made some headlines in the individual events over the weekend, but as a team finished the ACC Indoor Championships in similar fashion to last year.
The Blue Devils went down to Clemson, S.C., looking to improve upon last year’s fifth place finish for the women and ninth place finish for the men. But at the end of the day, the ACC proved to be too littered with talented squads for Duke to do any better than sixth for the women and ninth for the men this time around.
For a long time last week, it seemed like the Blue Devil women were going to be a real challenger for the conference crown. Going into Saturday’s final slate of events, Duke was ahead of the pack in first place, on the cusp of an ACC title. However, it was not to be, as Florida State, Miami, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Clemson all surged ahead of the Blue Devils on that final day of the meet.
Nevertheless, just the fact that Duke was in that position going into Saturday is something that the program can build on.
“We were going into the [200-meter], which is the second to last event with a couple field events, and the [3000-meter] and the [4x400-meter] left, and we were still in contention,” interim head coach Shawn Wilbourn said. “From a program standpoint, that's big, because all the women believe that they can win it, and they now know that in the future, that they can win it.”
On the men’s side, Duke hovered around the back half of the top 10 all week, eventually taking home ninth place for the second straight year. That finish is nothing to slouch at, but it’s clear there's separation between the Blue Devils and the likes of top finishers Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Florida State.
“We had some great performances by a few kids—we just need more depth,” Wilbourn said. “We don't have the depth on the men’s side and until we can recruit in some of the other events as we move forward, we’re kind of changing the direction and trying to be a little more balanced, but it's gonna take a little bit of time to become more balanced and get the depth on the men's side.”
While the final team tally left Duke hungry for more, the Blue Devils took home some individual hardware along the way.
Per usual, senior Erin Marsh was putting in work on the big stage, capturing the silver medal in both the women’s high jump and the women’s 60-meter hurdles. The Georgia native broke the school record in the hurdles—which she happened to already hold—on consecutive days, with 8.18 seconds in the preliminaries and 8.06 seconds in the finals.
“If you look at from the beginning of the indoor season, just through ACCs, you'll see [Marsh] improving each week,” Wilbourn said. “She's wanted to break into the 8.1s [in the hurdles] and we've been talking a lot about it and what she needs to do, and the past couple of meets, she hasn't done it and was frustrated.... I mean, she's ranked seventh in the country in one of the strongest events in the NCAA—the women's hurdles is extremely competitive in the United States as a whole.”
Right behind Marsh in the high jump was sophomore Elasia Campbell, who's been a steady performer in the event over the last two seasons and won the bronze medal this past weekend.
Ben Beatty also got in on the action, picking up bronze in the men's shot put. With an 18.43-meter performance—a new personal record that only strengthens the school record he already held—the redshirt senior earned his first ACC medal and first All-ACC honor of his career, a fitting bookend to a stellar indoor resumé.
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Sophomore Ezra Mellinger, meanwhile, capped off an impressive indoor season of his own with a fifth-place finish in the men's long jump to earn second-team All-ACC honors.
Moving over to the mid-distance and distance track events, senior Leigha Torino continued her stretch of superb performances in the women’s 800-meter, finishing sixth with a time of 2:05.20, the 10th-fastest time in the NCAA this season. The run earned Torino second-team All-ACC honors for the second time in her Duke career.
Fellow senior Sara Platek collected her first medal in an ACC meet in the women's 5000-meter, taking home silver after posting a time of 16:16.28, a personal record.
Not every headline was occupied by veterans, though. Freshman Jackson Walker showed up in a major way in the men’s 800-meter, finishing with a time of 1:50.57, good for fourth in Duke indoor history. The Texas native has displayed a significant amount of promise in the 800 during his first few months as a Blue Devil.
“From the very first meet that he raced in, he was impressive,” Wilbourn said. “Not only in the 800—on the relay, he’s shown his speed on the [4x400-meter] in some early meets. To what he's done as a freshman, not only from a physical piece, but just mentally, he's confident, and he kind of has that swag that you need to be competitive at this level.”
Next up for Duke is a trip to the NCAA Indoor Championships, which are scheduled for March 12-13. It remains to be seen who will represent the Blue Devils at the meet, but expect some of the usual contributors to be part of the festivities in Fayetteville, Ark.