Outside of Rector Field House in Blacksburg, Va., it was as chilly as could be. Inside, Duke was as warm as ever. The Blue Devils put together an impressive performance in the Hokie Invitational over the course of two days, setting four school records and providing plenty of reasons to be optimistic as the meat of their indoor season gets underway.
The first school record came early in the meet when senior sprinter Halle Bieber ran a blazing 7.43 seconds in the women’s 60m dash, a time good enough to earn first place in the preliminary competition and just ahead of the previous school record of 7.44 seconds set by India Lowe in 2019.
Head coach Shawn Wilbourn wants to make it clear that performances like this will be the rule going forward, not the exception. “I think we just have a lot of talent on the team. The program is just at a different level than it has been in the past,” said Wilbourn after the meet. “I just think this is the new standard for Duke track and field.”
From there, the Blue Devils continued to outperform their teammates of the past. Sophomore Beck Wittstadt erased one of the oldest standing records in Duke’s book, beating former Olympian Bob Wheeler’s time in the 1000m run by .25 seconds in 2:21.55. That record was originally set in 1971 and had been the time to beat for 53 years. His performance was good enough for fifth overall.
“We had some young distance runners perform well, [Wittstadt], with that school record in the 1000 was big-time,” said Wilbourn. “Those were some really good guys that were on that list. Bob Wheeler, Curtis Beach. To surpass those guys, it's just a tribute to where Beck is at.”
While these two feats alone would have been impressive, the records kept on coming. Arguably the most notable accomplishment of the meet for the Blue Devils came in the women’s 300m event, in which Duke landed each of the top five times. On top of that, the quickest three of those five were fast enough to break Lowe’s 2019 record in the event. Sophomore Megan McGinnis led the way for the squad from Durham, setting the program’s new mark to beat with a 37.94 time.
The meet in Blacksburg also marked the season debut of Duke’s distance running squad, and while no major records were set in the longer events over the weekend, there were some solid performances. Senior Ariana Gragg placed second overall in the 800m event with a time of 2:09.59. On top of that, junior Carter Dillon took the overall win in the men’s 3000m race with a time of 8:15.56. Overall, Duke occupied half of the top 10 spots in the men’s 3000m event.
In the field events, Duke fared well. Yet another school record fell as graduate student Jide Akinjisola placed fifth overall in the weight throw with a 19.31m throw, clearing the previous school record of 19.08 set by Ben Beatty in 2020.
Another bright spot for the Blue Devils was in the heptathlon, which combines running, throwing and jumping events into one aggregate final score. There, sophomore Max Forte had an excellent weekend. He finished first in the long jump and shot put, along with second in the 1000m race. He finished first overall in the event, ending with 5,099 points.
Overall, the Blue Devils came in, shattered an astounding four school records, and picked up some individual wins at the same time. Now that the team is getting into the long stretch of its schedule, with meets planned for every weekend until the ACC Indoor Championships Feb. 23, it will be important for Willbourn to keep his athletes healthy and fresh for a run at a title.
“I foresee us getting better each weekend,” said Wilbourn.
Duke returns to action Friday and Saturday at the Penn State National.
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