In the sport of cross country, planning and preparation are the keys to success. Yet when it comes to race day, execution is the name of the game.
Duke traveled to Lehigh Friday for the Paul Short Invitational, putting its execution abilities to the test against a talented Division I field. While the men’s team rose to the challenge, the women fell short of expectations.
“Overall, the men executed our race plan really nicely. They went out and competed right around where we told them to,” said head coach Angela Reckart. “On the women’s side, it’s an aggressive start … and they didn’t get out where they wanted to be.”
The Blue Devils entered the meet with the men’s and women’s teams ranked eighth and 10th in the Southeast Region, respectively. Coming off of a pair of second-place team finishes at the Virginia Invitational, both programs looked to capitalize on their momentum heading into the event.
On the men’s side, Duke was led by graduate student Matyas Csiki-Fejer, who clocked a time of 23:20.6 to finish 16th in the field. He was backed up by 19th- and 20th-place finishers in junior Zach Kinne and senior Chris Theodore, who posted times of 23:25.0 and 23:25.2 on the 8K course. Senior Sam Rivera and junior Austin Gabay rounded out the scoring for the Blue Devils, earning them a fifth-place finish overall.
The women struggled a bit more in the larger field, despite having the second overall finisher in sophomore Amina Maatoug, who completed her 6K in 19:34.6. After Maatoug hurdled across the finish line, the next Duke runner would not cross for nearly another minute. Freshman Dalia Frias came in next with a time of 20:18.3 to earn 41st. Senior Emily Cole and graduate students Ashlyn Ramos and Karly Forker closed out the race for the Blue Devils for a 10th-place team finish.
“I’d say the women are better than how we competed today. We’re gonna have to learn from today and move forward,” said Reckart. “But I have to highlight Amina’s performance. It’s pretty evident that she is an extremely talented individual and coming in here and beating some really talented ladies in the women’s field is very impressive.”
Inexperience and a lack of aggression out of the gate seemed to hurt the Blue Devils’ performances in the race. Nevertheless, the future of the women’s team still looks bright. Frias and fellow freshman Anna Corcoran have both earned ACC Women’s Freshman of the Week honors, and Reckart sees the youngsters improving every day as they learn to test themselves in a race environment.
“It’s a transition coming to college and learning how to compete with girls who are just as good and better than you, so I think they’re learning a lot, and we’ll be better moving forward,” said Reckart about the freshmen.
Moving forward, the team is looking toward the Nuttycombe Invitational, its final regular-season competition before heading to the ACC Championships. With an opportunity to build toward the postseason and earn wins against many quality teams, the meet will prove to be a big one for Duke as it fine-tunes itself for the weeks ahead. In the meantime, the Blue Devils hope to work on a more aggressive running style that will put them in more winning positions on race day while also learning to trust their fitness.
“We’re gaining fitness and momentum every week. I think it’s a significant improvement from last year with where we were on both sides. It’s an exciting time for our program as we continue to build,” said Reckart.
Duke will travel to Madison, Wis., in two weeks for its final regular-season race Oct. 14 before heading to Charlottesville, Va., at the end of October for the ACC Championships.
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