It seems Duke has an ambition: to change that common epithet from “speed demon” to “speed devil.” The Blue Devils, though, showed Friday that they have some more work to do this season before this linguistic shift can become a reality.
The Blue Devils took flight to race in the Nuttycombe Invitational in Madison, Wis., early Friday afternoon for their final regular-season meet. Duke’s women’s team competed in the traditional six-kilometer race, while the men’s team followed a similar path on an eight-kilometer route.
The men showed up for a very on-track performance that put them in 19th place out of 33 teams, while the women’s team placed 32nd out of 36 teams.
“I think the biggest thing that we need to take away from this is that we're growing as a program and that Rome wasn't built in a day or a week or a month. It takes time,” head coach Angela Reckart said after the meet. “So we're getting better, believe it or not, and we're going to continue to get better both on the men and the women's side.”
Seven runners from the women’s team ran around the Thomas Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course, among them sophomore Amina Maatoug, who was runner-up at the Paul Short Invitational in September. Maatoug was joined by freshman Dalia Frias, whose most recent performances have earned her a pair of ACC Freshman of the Week awards, as well as five other Blue Devil runners.
The six-kilometer race course begins on a flat stretch of green; after about 500 meters, however, it veers into a downhill slope surrounded by trees. Then the course is a relatively traditional one, characterized by alternating inclines and declines, shady wooded areas and stretches of open field. Weather in Madison danced around the mid-to-low 40s: the Blue Devils were lucky enough to miss any of the extreme winter conditions endemic to Wisconsin.
Nuttycombe’s first 2000 meters placed Duke in 16th overall. After 4000 meters, Maatoug had risen to fifth place; Frias surged even higher, passing 32 competitors and finishing loop two in 70th, just 15 seconds behind Maatoug with a time of 13:50.2. The team as a whole, however, did not fare as well: The Blue Devil women dropped into the 24th spot after the second course loop, gaining 119 points as Cole fell 89 spots behind her original place of 116 and Hamilton dropped from 135th place to 209th.
The final run around the course provided an underwhelming finish for Duke, which fell eight places by the conclusion of the race.
“We're a young team,” Reckart said. “We're kind of in a rebuilding phase as this is my second year here at Duke. I would say our top five runners actually had a really solid day. I think we have one individual who had an off day today and that kind of hurt us. But we're growing overall. We're definitely working on our depth as we're continuing to add pieces of the puzzle moving forward.”
In fact, for a number of individual runners, the race did not go poorly at all: Maatoug finished at a solid 20:20.3, putting her in 28th place.
“[Maatoug] had a very strong day leading us—I think she may have gone out a tad too aggressively and that hurt her in the last [1000 meters],” said Reckart.
Frias, kept up with her impressive recent performances, finishing in 20:37.8 in 67th place—quite the feat for a freshman. “She was really sick last week, so I'm actually very pleased with how she finished,” said Reckart.
At 2 p.m., the Blue Devil men tied the frayed ends of Duke’s performance back together. “Our goal for our men’s team today was a top-20 finish,” Reckart said.
The men’s team was steady at Nuttycombe, maintaining a relatively consistent position in the middle of the pack. Duke finished 16th in the first 2000 meters, 18th in the next and 16th after that. The last 2000 meters saw a bit of lost speed as the runners accumulated 41 points to fall a few spots. Still, they reached their team goal by holding onto that top-20 spot, and ultimately wrapped up their regular season with a race to be proud of.
“On the men's side, all seven of our guys should be together,” Reckart said. “And that's how we train and that's how we're going to continue to raise the goal—all seven of those guys move up together.”
Their solidarity is evident from their results: In the first 2000-meter leg of the men’s race, seniors Zach Kinne and Sam Rivera rounded the corner together, finishing their first quarter at 5:59.8 and 5:59.9, respectively. Graduate student Nick Dahl and senior Owen Mackenzie followed less than a second behind them, coming in at 6:00.1.
“It helps, running with your teammates. When you start to struggle, you start to have some doubts, when you see your teammates … it gives you the confidence that you can continue to move up with them,” said Reckart.
In the second quarter of the men’s race, senior Chris Theodore accelerated from 101st place to 79th, shaving five seconds off his time from the first 2000-meter stretch and putting himself halfway through the race in 11:55.4. He ended up with a 57th-place finish overall and a cumulative time of 23:48.8.
Research Triangle rivalry came to Madison along with the cross country team with both North Carolina and N.C. State present. Last year, the N.C. State women were NCAA champions; at Nuttycombe, they continued that legacy, streaking past Duke to take a first-place victory back to Raleigh.
The Blue Devils return to action Oct. 28 at the ACC Championships in Charlottesville, Va.
“We should learn from this,” said Reckart. “If you want to be in the mix with these top-20 team programs you have to learn how to race in fields like today. So I think that [this race] will help us significantly in the future.”
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