Last season was a landmark year for Duke track and field, with the Blue Devil women securing the program’s first-ever outdoor ACC Championship.
Now, the goal for the program is to build off that success. And this past Friday and Saturday at the Virginia Tech Invitational, it’s safe to say Duke did just that.
While it had been over a month since the Blue Devils’ first meet of the indoor season Dec. 4-5, with winter break taking up a large portion of that time period, director of track and field Shawn Wilbourn said the team performed well in every event group and established a solid base for the upcoming year.
“We're a much younger team than we were last year. But last year’s success set a high bar and changed the mentality of our women's team, especially,” Wilbourn said. “And the talent level that we have now, we're gonna be in the hunt for an ACC Championship every year, I believe, and this year will be no different.
“On the men's side, we're building the men's program. Our goal is to be top five at indoor ACCs and maybe top four outdoors. The women have motivated the men and the men are performing at an all-time high.”
Several individuals and relay teams impressed across both days of the meet, but perhaps the highlight was graduate transfer Donovan Spearman’s record-breaking 60-meter dash. The former Dartmouth sprinter and All-Ivy League Second Team performer in the event clocked a time of 6.71 seconds Friday, breaking Randy Jones’ Blue Devil record of 6.74 that had stood for 30 years.
“He's an extreme talent,” Wilbourn said of Spearman. “And we expect him to do some great things throughout the indoor and outdoor season, so really excited for him.”
On the women’s side, graduate student Lauren Hoffman stood out in both the 500-meter and 200-meter runs, with her time of 1:11.97 in the former falling just 0.1 seconds short of the school record. Hoffman is looking to build off an incredibly successful 2021 campaign in which she secured the ACC Silver Medal in the outdoor 400-meters, earning Second Team All-America distinction in the process.
A name that remained relatively quiet throughout the weekend, at least compared to her usual dominance, was graduate student Erin Marsh. But Wilbourn said that with Marsh—who secured the bronze medal in the pentathlon at last year’s NCAA Indoor Championships—the training plan is a little bit different compared with the rest of the team.
“We expect her to compete late into the summer, so we're still training pretty hard with her,” Wilbourn said. “Her trajectory is a little bit different… We feel she's got a shot to possibly win NCAAs and potentially make the World Championships this summer. So she's just training a little bit different, and she's training a little bit harder right now. So the performances aren't going to be there early, because she’s kind of in a fatigued state.”
Marsh still set a personal record in the shot put over the weekend, with Wilbourn saying she “looks incredible” in terms of her progress through the winter thus far.
The meet capped off Saturday evening with Duke earning two first-place finishes in the final events of the weekend: the men’s and women’s 4x400-meter relays. Graduate students Miles Mingo and Alex Schwedt as well as sophomores Alejandro Rodriguez and Job Trahan filled out the men’s squad, taking the top spot with a time of 3:14.86—Wilbourn said they’re a group that could challenge the school record of 3:11.15 set last season.
The women’s 4x400 squad is a bit more of an open-ended case right now. Duke won the gold medal at the ACC Outdoor Championships and placed seventh at outdoor NCAAs in the event last season, but has since lost three of the four members of that relay to graduation (Hoffman is the only returner). Thus, Wilbourn decided to split the eight women in contention for those four spots into two teams entering this past weekend’s meet to see what he’s got to work with.
In the end, Hoffman, junior Jenna Crean, freshman Abby Geiser and sophomore Hailey Williams took first place in the event with a time of 3:43.21, while junior Carly King, senior Nikki Merritt as well as freshman Megan McGinnis and Chyler Turner placed second with a time of 3:45.95.
“We kind of took all eight of the girls that are in consideration for the 4x400 and kind of split them up and ran two teams, and they both ran really well, competed against each other actually because we were ahead of the other teams by so far,” Wilbourn said. “And now we've kind of set the bar a little higher for the 4x400 teams—we think that we're gonna have maybe as talented of a team as we had last year, so really excited.”
Duke returns to Blacksburg, Va., this upcoming weekend for the Hokie Invitational as it continues to build up for the ACC Indoor Championships in late February.
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