It’s fair to say the ACC Championships, just like the course, were muddy for Duke.
Both the men’s and women’s teams traveled to Notre Dame’s home cross country course in South Bend, Ind., Friday for the ACC Championships, a race that saw individual bright spots illuminate what was by and large a dim day for the Blue Devils.
Duke entered Friday’s meet on the back of a very strong showing at Pre-Nationals in Tallahassee, Fla., Oct. 15, with the men’s team’s 13th-place finish and women’s team’s 15th-place finish their best since 2012 and 2017, respectively. In a meet that featured national heavyweight programs like Northern Arizona, Colorado and Arkansas, the Blue Devils posted results to be proud of and went into ACCs with momentum.
On race day, however, the women placed ninth with a score of 247 and the men placed seventh with a score of 161. Graduate student Michaela Reinhart and sophomore Charlotte Tomkinson finished 14th and 16th, respectively to lead the women, while graduate student Josh Romine finished in 21st to lead the men, followed closely by junior Nick Dahl in 27th.
Reinhart was last season’s top finisher for the women at conference with her fourth-place showing, while Tomkinson has been one of this year’s breakout stars, leading the Blue Devils in all of the three previous races she competed in. This was undoubtedly Romine’s best performance of the year, as he passed nine people in the last two kilometers to earn his first-ever All-ACC recognition. This was also Tomkinson’s first All-ACC standing and Reinhart’s fourth consecutive.
“They [Reinhart, Tomkinson and Romine] went in and executed exactly how we told them to,” said head coach Angela Reckart. “I'm going to highlight all those performances but I would say our initial reaction is we're disappointed.”
On the whole, it never really came together for Duke in South Bend. The program was expected to place higher on both sides and in closer competition to its ranked opposition. Granted, the ACC field (as always) is incredibly strong this year, with five women's teams in the national top-25 including No. 2 N.C. State, and two men’s teams in No. 8 Notre Dame and No. 19 Florida State, but the Blue Devils will nevertheless be dejected that they couldn’t replicate last year’s stellar showing.
“From what I've seen in practice, I know they're fitter than how they ran tonight,” said Reckart. “It's one thing, you know, saying, ‘Hey, I can compete in the top 30 of this group’ and it's another thing going out and executing that believing in yourself, so I think that's something that we're working on learning as a whole.”
No doubt some of this comes due to injuries and off-days from some of Duke’s traditional top runners. Graduate student CJ Ambrosio, who finished 16th at conference in 2020, placed 46th on Friday while senior Elizabeth Runeau finished in 101st but ran with an ankle injury.
“It was a bit of an off day for CJ,” remarked Reckart. “I think he might have lost the pack, and once you lose the pack in that field, it's easy to kind of separate yourself. We're just focusing on learning from this and not being satisfied and figuring out how we can process better two weeks from now.”
“Elizabeth twisted her ankle and she's been in a cast all week,” added Reckart. “So, you know, I didn't really know what to expect out of her. The fact that she competed today, I was really proud of her going out and getting through it.”
Duke will definitely be looking for an improved showing at NCAA Regionals in Louisville, Ky., in a couple weeks, that its stars from Friday keep performing and that the rest of the scoring five on both sides will run to their absolute maximum.
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“We're walking away knowing we wanted more today,” said Reckart. “We have two weeks to regroup and get ready to show what we're capable of doing.”
The Blue Devils surprised everyone last year with their late-season heroics, and Duke fans surely hope that they’ll do it again.