For director of track & field and cross country Shawn Wilbourn and his staff, the first two meets of the calendar year were in “evaluation mode.” Well consider that evaluation done, with the Blue Devils grading out pretty darn well.
Duke made the trip to Blacksburg, Va., for the Hokie Invitational over the weekend, the third event of its indoor slate going back to December. While there still is work to do in the month leading up to ACCs, the foundation is clearly in place.
“We set out to do our first multi event, with the men and the women, and came away with some all-time performances,” Wilbourn said.
That foundation, at least on the women’s side, does not deviate from where the Blue Devils excelled last year. For starters, the 4x400m relay group, despite a second A-team lineup in as many events, raced to a 3:41.27 mark and a first-place finish ahead of Louisville.
“When we recruit, that’s what we’re looking for. We want to keep that 4x400, like I’ve mentioned in the past, as an event that’s marquee for us. We’re young, we lost a talented group last year, but we’ve recruited well.”
The fact that we are still in January gives the staff the ability to experiment with combinations. Finding the right complements to veterans such as Lauren Hoffman and Carly King, whether that’s promising sophomore Hailey Williams or freshmen Megan McGinnis and Chyler Turner—who joined Hoffman and King in the relay this time around—is imperative.
“We’ve been mixing and matching. We ran two teams last week, we ran two teams this week, and we’re just trying to see who works well together and who wants to compete and who wants the spot on that team as we approach the championship season.”
Individually, Hoffman and Erin Marsh, a pair of mainstays in the 400m and pentathlon, respectively, both finished in the top-two in Virginia. Marsh beat out fellow Blue Devil Isabel Wakefield with a 4,172 total in five-part frenzy, winning the Hokie Invitational pentathlon for the second straight year.
“Indoors, we’re looking at her shotput,” Wilbourn said on the areas that the graduate student sought improvement in after a third-place showing at NCAAs. “We’ve really been working on improving that event, she P.R.-ed last week in the open meet, and she P.R.-ed for a multi this weekend…. We also were looking for some consistency in the long jump, which she got three fair jumps, so that was positive.”
Hoffman was denied a first-place finish in the 400m by Charlotte’s Maya Singletary, but the Virginia native still managed her second podium finish in a row, coming in at 54.14 for a personal record.
“For Lauren, it’s her confidence,” Wilbourn said on the strides that Hoffman has made. “Her confidence is at an all-time high, and this sport is so mental…. She goes into every meet now with just a great attitude, and she goes in and knows how to compete.”
For the men, the distance runners truly shone. Nick Dahl, Josh Romine and CJ Ambrosio made up 60% of the top-five in Friday’s 3,000m, each reaching personal bests in the process.
Saturday yielded a third-place showing for the men’s 4x400m unit, putting a bow on an convincing couple of days for the men’s program.
“It shows our men’s distance guys are really running well, and really excited for them once we approach the championship season,” Wilbourn said.
Duke gets this weekend off before a short trek over to Winston-Salem for the Camel City Invitational Feb. 4. Until then, continued growth is still the priority.
“I think indoors, we’re better than we were a year ago when it comes to that. We have contributors in every event, we don’t have the depth in every event yet. Outdoors, we’ll have a little bit more depth as we have some transfers that become eligible, and our javelin throwers are able to start competing. But it’s a work in progress,” Wilbourn said.
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Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.