In theater, a bad rehearsal before opening night is supposed to be good luck. Duke has talent and speed — and if the indoor season is a dress rehearsal, Duke should have a great opening night on the outdoor track.
On Friday and Saturday, five members of the women’s team made the trip to Albuquerque Convention Center in New Mexico to compete in three events at the NCAA Indoor Championships. Despite a disappointing weekend overall — Duke finished with just two points — sophomore Amina Maatoug polished off her first collegiate track season with All-America First Team honors to boost her confidence one more time before heading into the outdoor season.
“We're ready to move on,” said track and field director Shawn Wilbourn. “We're ready to move on to outdoor season. Feel that we had a great indoor season, but we feel that the outdoor season is where we're at our best, and [we’re] looking forward to starting that campaign.”
Even on the darkest days for Duke, though, Maatoug finds a way to bring in a bit of light. In the fall, she went solo to the national championships for cross country; this weekend, she made the same trip for track as the only athlete entered in an individual event.
On Friday, the Leiden, Netherlands native zoomed through the mile to finish seventh in the preliminary round with a time of 4:41.25 — earning her spot in the finals the next day. Saturday’s race went by even more quickly as Maatoug clocked 4:38.83, though still placing seventh. This time was not her best; in fact, it is a solid six seconds slower than her personal record. But it was still enough to make the All-America First Team, made up of the ten fastest mile-runners in the country.
“We felt she had a shot to win, but you know, it's our first trip here and … it’s insane how high the level of competition is, so one little mistake and you pay for it,” said Wilbourn. “She didn’t run her best tactical race but I think she'll learn from it, and the future looks bright for her.”
Maatoug’s performance in the 3000 meters, despite earning her a spot on the All-America Second Team, was not what it could have been. She finished 14th out of 15 runners in the finals, crossing the finish line at 9:38.14, a long way off from the 8:55.62 race that she ran at the season-opener in December. Clinching the lead in this event was fellow sophomore and N.C. State phenom Katelyn Tuohy, whose first-place time on Saturday failed to break nine minutes. While Tuohy was beatable, Maatoug did not run her best race, and lost her chance at a national gold and the opportunity to beat out a consistent conference rival.
“I think just the emotion of the mile, it kind of zapped her. And she was frustrated with how the race went and didn't have a lot of time to recover … so she was just a little disappointed,” said Wilbourn.
All season, the women’s distance medley relay has been Duke’s crowning achievement, with the quad of Megan McGinnis, Lauren Tolbert, Dalia Frias and Maatoug most recently running a 10:49.87 at the ACC Indoor Championships — fastest all-time at the location, for the program and in the ACC.
This time, however, things were a bit different. Maatoug, focusing on placing in the mile and the 3000 meters, sat out the medley. On top of that, Frias, who typically takes care of the first leg of the relay — a 1200 meter distance fitting for the cross country ACC Freshman of the Year — did not make it to Albuquerque with the other Blue Devils. Due to what Wilbourn has called “an issue that's unresolved,” her name is not currently on Duke’s roster.
It was up to senior Emily Cole and graduate student Karly Forker to fill those two open spots on the medley team. Duke placed 10th out of the 12 competing teams and clocked its slowest time of the season at 11:21.20. Stanford, which took first in the event, finished in 10:56.34 — nearly seven seconds slower than the Blue Devils’ ACC-record time just a couple of weeks ago. If Frias and Maatoug had stayed in the mix, Duke might have claimed the fastest distance medley time in the country.
“We had hoped that we could score … we were hoping for eighth or better,” said Wilbourn. “It was a young team and inexperienced, but they gained some valuable experience from it … I feel like they'll all have an opportunity to get here again and really be able to use this experience to help them excel down the road.”
This result comes in spite of a stellar second-leg performance from McGinnis. On Friday, the sophomore ran her best distance medley of the year, finishing 400 meters in 51.56 seconds — good for the fastest split in the event overall and faster than the program 400m record that McGinnis herself holds.
However, the shuffled team and underwhelming result adds to a season of misfortune for McGinnis. Her splits are among the best in the nation, but a dropped baton smashed her hopes for an indoor conference title for the team and for a national qualification in the 4x400. McGinnis has proven more than enough times that she has the speed to compete at the top, not only of the ACC but also of the country; chance just keeps getting in her way.
Wilbourn, however, is confident that the bad luck plaguing this sprinter will only motivate her to excel in the outdoor season, where Duke is looking for the women’s conference title it was so close to taking indoors.
“The team's rallied behind her, and it's definitely motivated her and I'm really excited to see her run outdoors,” he said.
Though it has been a season of missed opportunity for the Blue Devils, there’s another one just about to start. The outdoor track season will kick off in just a few days on Thursday in Myrtle Beach, S.C., at the Alan Connie Shamrock Invitational. The Blue Devils will be looking for some St. Patrick’s Day luck to help them achieve their full potential.
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Sophie Levenson is a Trinity sophomore and sports features editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.