It may be nearly June, but for 17 Blue Devils, the spring season will stretch a bit further into summer.
Duke put together its best showing yet this past week at the NCAA East Regional in Bloomington, Ind., setting a new program-record with 17 athletes qualifying for the NCAA Outdoor Championships in their respective events. For that deep group of Blue Devils, all eyes now turn toward Eugene, Ore., with a chance to compete against the nation’s best June 8-11.
“If you look who’s going to Eugene from our team, we have sprinters, we have jumpers, we have throwers, distance runners,” director of track and field and cross country Shawn Wilbourn said. “We’ve never been this versatile as a team in past history, so it’s great as a coach to see that vision start to come together.”
Of those 17 Blue Devils, 13 come from the women’s side with the other four coming from the men's. The group’s record size is no surprise considering Duke’s performance at the ACC Outdoor Championships earlier this month—the Blue Devil women followed up their 2021 conference title with a runner-up finish and the men tied for fifth, their best placement since 2015.
The vast majority of Duke’s qualifiers have never reached this point before, but for a select few Blue Devils, the upcoming trip to Eugene marks a return to the sport’s biggest stage. Junior Halle Bieber and graduate students Lauren Hoffman and Erin Marsh have each been here before, with the remaining 14 qualifiers in uncharted territory.
“I think them getting there at an earlier age is great going in this year because they’re not as nervous, they know what to expect,” Wilbourn said of the returning trio. “And anytime you can compete in that environment and learn from it, it bodes well for the future, and that’s what we’re hoping.”
While Hoffman and Marsh will compete in the 400m hurdles and the heptathlon, respectively, all three of Duke’s returners are part of relay teams, a crucial part of Duke’s success as a program. Both the women’s 4x100m relay and the women’s 4x400m relay kept it going with qualifying performances in Bloomington. Carly King, Marsh, Megan McGinnis and Hoffman turned in a season-best 3:33.32 in the 4x400m relay, good for eighth place and a trip to Eugene.
“That’s kind of the very first event area that we have focused on to build this program around, is the [4x400m relay],” Wilbourn said.
When it comes to the versatility of Duke’s qualifying group, it’s important to note the improvement on the men’s side: A year ago, all eight Blue Devil qualifiers were from the women’s team. This time around, four Blue Devil men return to NCAA Outdoors, marking the first men to compete at the event for Duke since Steven Solomon qualified in the 400m back in 2018.
Accompanying graduate students Erick Duffy (pole vault) and Nick Dahl (1500m) is the javelin duo of sophomore Scott Campbell and junior Luke Jackson. Overall, Duke has three—including senior Dana Baker on the women’s side—headed to Eugene in the javelin, the most of any non-relay event group.
“Our throws coach, Angelo [Posillico], he’s just done a fabulous job,” Wilbourn said. “He came in and kind of inherited that group and has really taken them to the next level…. That’s part of our vision is to be competitive in all the event groups, and that’s the first step.”
Other qualifiers for Duke include junior Emily Cole in the 3000m steeplechase, Michaela Reinhart in the 10000m and senior Isabel Wakefield, whose automatic qualification in the heptathlon was official before the week’s festivities in Bloomington.
Of course, not every Blue Devil is advancing past this point, meaning that most of Duke’s team is bound for the offseason. For those who fell short in Bloomington—including freshman Beck Widdstadt, who came close to qualification in the 800m—Wilbourn believes that there is still value in the regional experience.
“I told everybody on the bus [Saturday night], everybody that got here, you’re one of the best athletes in the country,” Wilbourn said. “You have to be to make the regional meet, and just because you didn’t make it all the way, you learn from this experience, and you’re going to come back next year and we’ll give it another shot.”
Now, after returning to Durham and readying for the outdoor championships at home, Wilbourn said that the Blue Devils are set to depart for the West Coast in two groups Sunday and Monday.
“To our kids, that’s where they all want to compete at,” Wilbourn said. “And they’re getting the opportunity.”
The full list of Duke's qualifiers for the NCAA Outdoor Championships is included below:
- 10000m: Michaela Reinhart
- 400m hurdles: Lauren Hoffman
- 3000m steeplechase: Emily Cole
- 4x100m relay: Halle Bieber, Abby Geiser, Kelcie Simmons, Chyler Turner
- 4x400m relay: Jenna Crean, Carly King, Erin Marsh, Megan McGinnis, Hoffman
- Javelin: Dana Baker
- Heptathlon: Isabel Wakefield, Erin Marsh
- 1500m: Nick Dahl
- Pole vault: Erick Duffy
- Javelin: Scott Campbell, Luke Jackson
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Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.