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Season preview: Duke indoor track and field looking to push for top ACC positions in both men's and women's

There is much anticipation for this year's indoor track and field season after a rather underwhelming end to the fall cross country season.
There is much anticipation for this year's indoor track and field season after a rather underwhelming end to the fall cross country season.

On your marks, get set, go!

Coming off a women’s ACC title in the outdoor season in the spring and long period of training and recovery, there’s a warranted buzz around the Duke track and field program. This indoor season promises to be exciting and a worthy precursor to the quick-approaching outdoor season with success in its crosshairs, so here’s a quick preview before the Blue Devils travel to Winston Salem, N.C., for their first meet this Saturday.

Returning athlete to watch

Men’s: Alejandro Rodriguez

Rodriguez, a sophomore from McAllen, Texas, returns for his second season at Duke following a remarkable freshman campaign. The sprinter earned All-ACC Second Team honors in the Distance Medley Relay (DMR) and a bronze medal at the ACC Indoor Championships in February, helping to set a school-record 3:11.15 in the 4x400m and running a personal-best 48.65 seconds in the 400m. Rodriguez was one of Duke’s best performers in last year’s indoor season, so expect him to grow and perform better and better as the season goes on and he continues to develop.

Women’s: Erin Marsh

Marsh enters her final season as a Blue Devil off a stellar spring campaign that saw her take bronze at the NCAA Indoor Championships in the pentathlon, silver at the ACC Indoor Championships in the 60m hurdles and high jump, and silver at the ACC Outdoor Championships in the heptathlon. The graduate student has performed astoundingly year on year for Duke and has earned multiple All-ACC recognitions alongside her stellar placings at high-profile meets. She was crucial in securing the Blue Devils’ women’s ACC title in the spring and chances are she’ll be crucial in trying to repeat this winter.

New athlete to watch

Men’s: Mike Herzog

Herzog, a 6-foot-1 freshman from the small town of Thorndale, Texas, was a decorated high school competitor and won the Texas 2A state championship in the triple jump in both his sophomore and senior seasons. Despite his school’s small size, he was one of the state’s top jumpers in each year he competed, setting personal bests of 15.34m in the triple jump and 7.23m in the long jump. With some more development and additional strength training, as is the case with most college track and field athletes, expect Herzog to add to his impressive marks and become a scoring staple of the Duke men’s jumps team.

Women’s: Paige Sommers

Sommers is one of Duke’s most impressive freshman pickups, as the Los Angeles, Calif., native comes to Durham having competed in the 2021 U.S. Olympic trials and set the all-time high school record for outdoor pole-vault. She enters this season off a remarkable senior year that saw her inducted into the Ventura Country Hall of Fame and recognized as the Los Angeles Daily News Girls Athlete of the Year. Sommers is one of the most talented and decorated new faces to the supremely talented women’s roster and will no doubt make a mark, not just this season, but in the spring and in those to come.

Most anticipated meet

ACC Indoor Championships, Feb. 24-26

The ACC Indoor Championships is always a big meet by virtue of its name and occasion, but this season could prove to be a stage of immense success for the Blue Devils. The meet will feature every ACC member institution, including local rivals North Carolina and N.C. State. According to head coach Shawn Wilbourn, “every meet is just preparation for the ACC Championships,” and it’s the light at the end of the tunnel for Duke’s season. All meets build up to Blacksburg, Va., where the Blue Devils, especially the women’s team, have hopes of winning it all.

Best case scenario

“I believe that we (Duke) can win on the women's side an ACC indoor championship,” said Wilbourn. “That's our goal. That's what we're capable of.” 

Coming off a resounding triumph in the spring of 2021, the women’s side has ambitions of grandeur and a significant improvement on last year’s sixth-place team finish at the indoor meet. On the men’s side, Wilbourn believes the team can push for a top-six placing in the ACC, an improvement on ninth last year, and some individual qualifiers for the NCAA Championships in early March.

Worst case scenario

As we saw to an extent in the fall cross country season, sometimes meets just don’t go your way and track and field is of a similar vein. The Blue Devils could, if things don’t go to plan, slip to a similar finish at the ACC Championships as last year on the men’s side and fail to qualify anyone for the NCAA Championships, while the women would be disappointed if they don’t at least challenge for their aspirations of the ACC’s top spot and a top-20 finish at nationals. That’s not to say either would be a catastrophe of a season, but this is a program on the up with lofty goals and high expectations, and both teams will be disappointed if they can’t compete for them.

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