Some might think that running in circles loses its appeal after a while. When it comes to Duke, however, it never seems to; the Blue Devils always have a record to break or a meet to blow out of the water to keep those circles interesting.
The Blue Devils took a trip to colder weather over the weekend, gathering in State College, Pa., to compete in the Penn State National Open. Duke filled track lanes and the field at the Indoor Multisport Facility and Horace Ashenfelter III Indoor Track, with the women’s distance medley relay racing past the finish line quickly enough to shatter a school record and leave ACC rivals—like North Carolina—in the dust.
“I feel like if the meet was scored, our women would have easily won. We pretty much dominated every event that we were entered in on the women's side,” said head coach Shawn Wilbourn. “We would have probably been third if we were scored on the men's side.”
The Blue Devils stayed on track with their season trajectory: The women’s team excelled on nearly all fronts, while the men stood out in a handful of events. The weekend was highlighted by the women’s distance runners, who redefined the Duke school record in the distance medley relay and renewed confidence in the team’s goal of repeating as ACC indoor champions. This was an achievement furthered by the unfamiliar company at the meet, a hodgepodge of schools that Duke rarely faces.
“I think it's it's always good for kids to face competition they're not familiar with,” said Wilbourn. “It keeps them alert and stimulated as opposed to racing the same people every weekend … it was good to be in that environment, it was different levels of competition.”
Sophomore Chyler Turner kicked off first for Duke Friday afternoon, lining up in the women’s 60m hurdles. The Shreveport, La., native surged to place second in the first round of the event, an achievement that she would only build on by snagging first place in the finals.
Turner’s speedy start set off a string of wins on the track for the women’s team: Sophomore Amina Maatoug and freshman Lauren Tolbert took over the 800m, notching first and second place, respectively. The Blue Devils then hitched two top-10 finishes in both mile races, provided by senior-freshman duo Karly Forker and Dalia Frias on the women’s side and James Lee and Beck Wittstadt on the men’s. While Frias recorded her first college mile time, Forker, who finished seventh in the event, earned a new personal best in 4:43.79. Both men set personal bests as well—Lee clocked in at 3:59.22, the third-fastest mile in program history.
“He broke the elusive four-minute barrier. Anytime you're under four minutes in the mile, that's a big deal. And so we're really excited for him and he put together a great race,” said Wilbourn of Lee.
To round off the evening, sophomore sprinter Abby Geiser took second in the 60m race, closing out a successful first day.
Over on the field side, Duke fared respectably. Leading the way, freshman Gianna Locci leaped to a second-place finish in the women’s long jump, while senior Tyler Hrbek ranked fifth in the men’s pole vault. Weight throw events, however—for both the men and women—were not as successful. Duke’s women’s throwers placed sixth, eighth, and 10th, while the men landed eighth- and 15th-place finishes.
“We are still fine-tuning some things to see exactly what events we will compete in at ACCs,” said Wilbourn. “We still have some more firepower on the women's side, so I feel really, really good about where we are there … On the men’s side, it's just continuing to progress … We just gotta get a little bit better.”
“We’ve got some distance runners that are starting to run well,” Wilbourn added, “so [I’m] excited to see how they do in the next couple of weeks. I feel we're right where we should be.”
A new day Saturday meant a new opportunity for the Blue Devils. Duke started off with a bang, as Maatoug, Tolbert and Frias were joined by teammate Megan McGinnis in the distance medley relay. Less than a second separated these speedy Blue Devils from a North Carolina team racing right on their heels—and unfortunately for the Tar Heels, less than a second is enough to decide first place, which belonged to Duke. The Blue Devils also managed to speed past a distance medley relay school record that had not budged since 2013, resetting the mark at 10:56.68.
The men’s distance team also beat out North Carolina, though they did so by a margin of seven seconds. That put the Blue Devils in third for the men’s distance medley, right behind Virginia and Penn State.
“Track and field is an individual sport,” Wilbourn said. “But we really try to treat it as a team [sport] and develop that culture.”
Following Duke’s win in the distance medley relay, another freshman-senior duo—Julia Jackson and Madison Mulder—ran to second and third in the women’s 400-meter dash, respectively. A few hours later, the two of them partnered with McGinnis and Tolbert in a 4x400m relay that would put Duke, once again, on the top step of the podium.
“I thought our kids showed up extremely well. This is probably the best we've performed as a team this early in the season,” said Wilbourn.
The field had a much better day Saturday. Junior Brynn King, riding off of three consecutive top-three finishes, took over the women’s pole vault once again to win first place. Senior Beau Allen won his event, too, launching himself 2.06 meters for the men’s high jump; his performance was accompanied by senior Chinenye Agina’s win in the women’s event. Sophomore Michael Herzog sealed the field deal with a second-place finish in the men’s triple jump—the last event of an exciting two days.
“We'll put up another performance as we get things finalized and get ready for ACCs,” said Wilbourn. “So stay tuned for some even bigger performances in two weeks at Clemson and Vanderbilt.”
Before these big events, Duke will compete Friday and Saturday in Winston-Salem, N.C., at the JDL Camel City Invitational.
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