All things come to an end. For a select Duke contingent, that end came this weekend on the sport’s biggest stage in Eugene, Ore.
A program-record 17 Blue Devils made the trip to the West Coast for the four-day NCAA outdoor championships with graduate students Lauren Hoffman and Erin Marsh emerging as the team’s big winners on the final day of competition. The veteran duo earned a pair of bronze medals Saturday to both earn All-America First Team recognition, with six other Blue Devils following as second-team selections in three different events.
All in all, Duke’s four competitors on the men’s side went scoreless while the women’s team totaled 12 points to tie for 21st place.
“One humbling meet,” Wilbourn said. “The competition is extremely high and we held our own, we had a couple great performances, but you walk away from that meet going, we got to keep working.”
After an all-around strong showing at the NCAA East Regional in Bloomington, Ind., in May, Duke’s westbound group featured 13 women and four men. Those 17 competitors included both youth and experience, with a slew of first-time qualifiers joining a host of returning athletes in going up against the best of the best in Eugene.
Hoffman and Marsh each made their third appearances, and that experience paid off in a big way, with Wilbourn noting that “they knew what to expect.” Hoffman kicked off her path to the bronze medal Thursday with a program-record 55.47-second run in the 400m hurdles semifinals, placing third to advance.
The Haymarket, Va., product followed that up with another strong performance Saturday, placing third once again after crossing the finish line in 55.58 seconds. In a competitive race for the bronze medal, Hoffman held off three runners within a second of her time.
“The culmination of the long season and the hard work definitely paid off for [Hoffman] with a big PR in the prelims and a great race in the finals to get third,” Wilbourn said.
Marsh, on the other hand, competed in the heptathlon for the first time since her gold-medal performance at the ACC outdoor championships. Isabel Wakefield, a senior from England, also earned automatic qualification in the heptathlon but did not compete in Eugene.
Across the two-day event, Marsh finished second in the 100m hurdles, sixth in the shot put, fourth in the 200m and third in the 800m on the way to the bronze medal, with her 5,929 points topping her 5,294-point outing from the year prior. That improvement was more than enough, as Marsh—who Wilbourn credited for battling through an “up-and-down year”—broke through after a fourth-place finish in 2021 to crack the NCAA outdoor podium for the first time.
“I’m proud of her because she just continued to fight and she just showed up at the biggest moments,” Wilbourn said. “And just to me, it’s just been a pleasure to coach her over these past five years.”
Beyond the medalists, Duke left Eugene with six other All-Americans, headlined by four second-team selections in the women’s 4x100m relay. Kelcie Simmons, Halle Bieber and freshmen Abby Geiser and Chyler Turner combined to turn in a 44.04-second, 16th-place finish in the event semifinals to wrap up their season Thursday.
Junior Emily Cole and senior Dana Baker rounded out the honors, with Cole checking in at 9:57.09 in the 3000m steeplechase semifinal and Baker tossing the javelin a career-best 52.47m to claim 13th place. With both athletes in their first national outdoor appearance and set to return next season, Duke could have two new big winners in 2023.
All four qualifying Blue Devil men competed Wednesday on the first day of action. Graduate student Erick Duffy led the group with an 18th-place finish in the pole vault, while Nick Dahl finished 23rd in the 1500m and the duo of Scott Campbell and Luke Jackson placed 22nd and 24th in the javelin, respectively.
The Blue Devils may be done as a team for the time being, but Hoffman, Cole, Turner and Marsh will continue to compete into the summer at various different events. As the collegiate outdoor season ends, however, and the page turns toward a new year, Duke will have high goals once again moving forward.
“The program is operating at a high level and we want to continue to stay there,” Wilbourn said when asked about next season. “But we also want to continue to win championships.”
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Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.