Dating back to the preseason, Duke head coach Angela Reckart said that Friday’s Battle in Beantown would be the team’s first big test of the year.
It’s safe to say the Blue Devils passed that test, though with some room for improvement as well.
Both the Duke men and women placed third out of the 20 and 22-team fields, respectively, with the women’s performance particularly standing out—they came in with just three total votes in the latest top-30 rankings but finished comfortably ahead of multiple teams that received more votes, even surpassing No. 22 Connecticut.
“I think [the] women are definitely moving in the right direction,” Reckart said. “They exceeded my expectation...and I think we're going to be able to accomplish some bigger things this season than I had thought.”
Once again, sophomore Charlotte Tomkinson led the Blue Devil women, finishing in fifth place in the five-kilometer, 195-runner race after she won the Elon Opener Sept. 3. A mainstay in the team’s top-seven last year but never quite at the top of the pack, Tomkinson has clearly demonstrated through two races this season that she’s taken that next step.
“She’s really responding well to the training and what we've been doing,” Reckart said of Tomkinson. “I mean, she's a talent. Her background’s a little bit more speed-based—she was an 800-meter runner in high school. So now that she's embraced the aerobic component of things, obviously we see it's starting to pay off. So it's really helpful to have her in the mix.”
Just like the Elon Opener, graduate student Michaela Reinhart and senior Clara Savchik followed Tomkinson for the Duke women. Reinhart finished just behind in seventh place while Savchik took 23rd, though Reckart said the latter “wasn’t too happy” with her performance and that she’ll likely be closer to Tomkinson and Reinhart in future races.
To make up for that, however, the Blue Devils enjoyed breakout showings from senior Elizabeth Reneau and junior Caroline Howley, who rounded out the team’s top-five in 25th and 57th-place, respectively.
“Elizabeth Reneau had a phenomenal day for us,” Reckart said. “She really is improving every single week. And Caroline Howley stepped up big for us. We need to just keep working on bringing our 5-6-7 runners closer to our top four. I keep telling them that obviously the better that we do that, the better team that we will be.”
The Blue Devil men, meanwhile, entered the race with the most votes outside of the top-30 and finished right in the middle of the two teams directly behind them in the rankings, falling behind Syracuse but defeating Harvard. Graduate student CJ Ambrosio led the way with an 11th-place finish in the eight-kilometer, 174-runner race, while juniors Sam Rivera and Zach Kinne, senior Chris Theodore and graduate student Josh Romine took home 13th, 15th, 17th and 24th, respectively, to finish off Duke’s top five.
“I wanted to go out here and make my presence felt during this race and I think I did that,” Ambrosio, who missed the Elon Opener while getting over a cold, said. “I wanted to push when the race got soft and I think I did that from four-to-six [kilometers] and put myself in a position to lead the team down to the finish. And I think as I go on [and] build confidence I want to build off this performance. As a team we know we're going to get better—we ran our best race at Nationals last year, which is still two months away.”
To punch their ticket to Nationals, however, the Blue Devils still have some work to do. Only the top two squads at each of the nine Regional races earn automatic bids, with 13 more total teams earning at-large bids. Entering this past week, the Duke men ranked fourth in their region, while the women sat fifth in theirs.
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Both squads likely helped their case with their most recent performances, with the men even overcoming a disappointing day from Nick Dahl—the graduate transfer placed second on the team at the Elon Opener and likely would’ve finished top-20 Friday, but fell to 53rd while struggling with cramps.
However, both teams also still sit behind a flurry of talented programs in their regions, making the next three-week training period heading into Pre-Nationals in Tallahassee, Fla., Oct. 15 that much more important.
“We have a big three-week block ahead of us. Coach [has been] talking about like, this is where our season is made,” Ambrosio said. “.... These next couple weeks are huge, getting some big workouts, get the mileage back up. And yeah, I think this is where champions will be made in these next couple of weeks.”