One word that head coach Shawn Wilbourn uses to describe this year’s Duke team is “talented.”
Coming off of an indoor season for the books—one in which the women’s team claimed the title of ACC champions while the men’s team placed a respectable seventh—Duke is ready for another run around the indoor track.
The end of the outdoor season did, however, mean the end of a few significant collegiate running careers. Erin Marsh led the Blue Devils across the finish line as a graduate student, securing their place as champions with her unmatched talent in the high jump, long jump and hurdles. Though she now returns to Wilbourn as an assistant coach, she will no longer be in competition on the track.
Along with Marsh, the Blue Devils said goodbye to sprinter Lauren Hoffman and distance runner Michaela Reinhart, who also ran through the end of their eligibility as graduate students. “We lost three pretty talented female athletes that scored a lot of points for us,” said Wilbourn. “But I feel that we we've done a great job in recruiting, of bringing in women in other events that are gonna give us the same amount of points—if not more.”
This talent is evident in the influx of recruits joining Duke for the upcoming season. On the distance side, freshman Dalia Frias enters the season already carrying the honor of ACC Freshman of the Year from cross country season; in sprints, freshman Lauren Tolbert is looking like one to watch.
In terms of the men’s team, fresh talent combined with strong leadership might be the recipe for success that Wilbourn and his staff are looking for. At the helm of the Blue Devils this year runs a contingent of experienced seniors who promise to contribute more than just points to their team total.
“They've all been in our program. So they understand the culture and what we're trying to build. And it's a great group. I'm excited for them and they've done a great job this fall of leading,” said Wilbourn.
Wilbourn himself has a great track record as a leader. With just two seasons in this role under Wilbourn's belt, Blue Devils have already broken a number of school records—13 just last year—and claimed a conference championship. As he gears up for his third go-around directing the indoor season, Wilbourn looks to see improvement for both the men’s and women’s teams.
“Our goal is to win the ACC championship again and to be a top-15 team at the NCAA championships. So we have high goals on the women's side,” said Wilbourn. “And [with] the men we've been getting a little bit better each year. I think we were seventh indoors last year and we hope to be top five [in the ACC].”
If the Blue Devils maintain the upward trajectory they started to climb when Wilbourn took the reigns of the program, these goals can certainly become reality. -Sophie Levenson
New athletes to watch: Falon Spearman & Matthew Prebola
The Blue Devils are welcoming an impressive freshman class, especially on the women’s side. Leading that group will be freshman hurdler Falon Spearman, who was named to the 2022 Girls High School All-America Team along with fellow Duke runners Dalia Frias and Gianna Locci. Spearman had an impressive summer, winning the Adidas Outdoor Nationals championship in the 100m hurdles at a blazing-quick 13.55 pace.
For the men’s squad, one of this year’s big additions is freshman thrower Matthew Prebola of Tunkhannock, Pa. The 2021 Nike All-American put up impressive performances throughout his high school career, setting the PIAA District 2 javelin record. His distance of 222-2 feet was good enough for the second spot of the USA Boys High School Javelin list.
A big part of the team’s performance will be the culture, as the veterans show the freshmen and transfer students what it is like to run at Duke. “I'm excited for them, they've done a great job of leading,” said Wilbourn, “Preparing the younger freshmen and the grad students that have come in, getting them up to speed on what the expectations of our program are.” -Martin Heintzelman
Returning athletes to watch: Megan McGinnis & Beau Allen
The sophomore McGinnis had an impressive freshman year, racking up accolades as a part of her team’s ACC championship run last season. She won a gold medal as part of Duke’s 4x400m team, and also earned All-ACC first team mentions for the 4x400m along with second-team honors for her individual 400m performance. With the women losing some key talent in the offseason, expect McGinnis to step up in a big way if the crew is to repeat its championship.
For the men’s team, senior high-jumper Beau Allen will be one to watch. Allen was a bright spot for the team in the spring, earning a silver medal and All-ACC first team honors for his performance in the high jump. Allen also competed at the NCAA East Regional, leaping for 2.10 meters. That number was good for 22nd place. Allen will be looking to expand on his success as the men’s squad aims to continue on its upward trajectory. -Heintzelman
Most anticipated meet: Visit Winston‐Salem College Kick‐off, Dec. 3
Duke opens its season Saturday in the Visit Winston-Salem College Kickoff. It marks the first opportunity for freshmen and graduate transfers to earn their place on the Blue Devils’ travel roster for next semester.
Saturday will also be the only time that Duke competes before winter break, as the bulk of the season takes place after the new year. That being said, this meet is extremely important as a marker of where each athlete stands entering the season, and it is used as a learning experience.
“It motivates them,” Wilbourn said. “Whether they do really good, or whether they have a bad beat, it's going to motivate them to train over the break and come back in January when we really start the bulk of our season.”
However, the Blue Devils will be without their distance runners at this meet, as they are coming fresh off a grueling—yet successful—cross country season. Therefore, attention will be placed on short-distance runners and field specialists including McGinnis, sprinter and hurdler Halle Bieber and transfer thrower Jordyn Shubrick on the women’s side and throwers Jide Akinjisola and Myles Schreck on the men’s side. -Dom Fenoglio
Seeing as the women’s team managed to conjure up a conference victory last season, the Blue Devils aim to defend their title and stay on top of the ACC. The real test of strength will come with national competition; Wilbourn’s goal of top-15 in the country is achievable, but will require improvement from last year—a tall task when the Blue Devils have lost some of their best talent.
For the men’s team, the hope is that the Blue Devils can stay on their uphill trajectory and work their way into the top five on a conference level. Wilbourn can also hope to send a few individual runners to NCAA competition if the odds are working in his favor. -Levenson
On the women’s side, fresh off of a conference championship, expectations remain high. However, the loss of Marsh, Hoffman and Reinhart leaves a void that needs to be filled. If the Blue Devils fail to fill that void, and regress from last year, then back-to-back championships will remain a dream. This team is too talented to expect anything less than impressive, though, so even in a worst-case scenario, individuals will likely shine.
For the men, who performed roughly in the middle of the pack last season, the story is different. Instead of hoping to carry over the success of last year like the women, this men’s team will need to take a step forward in order to call this season a success. While that is possible with an impressive freshman class, Duke could just as easily take a step in the wrong direction, and fall toward the bottom of the conference instead of climbing to the top. The final position of this squad is likely more volatile than on the women’s side, so it will be an interesting development to monitor as the season progresses. -Fenoglio
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.