Duke track and field opens outdoor season with impressive showing at Raleigh Relays

Duke sophomore Abby Geiser at the Raleigh Relays.
Duke sophomore Abby Geiser at the Raleigh Relays.

At the Raleigh Relays over the weekend, Duke met with a variety of teams from all over the nation — and ran circles around them.

The Blue Devils shuttled between Durham and Raleigh Thursday through Saturday, taking the short trip to the state capital to check out the season’s competition. Competing teams ranged from neighboring ACC schools all the way to ASUN teams. The Wolfpack hosted the unscored meet at the Paul Derr Track and Field Facility, giving teams a chance to adjust to competing outdoors. Duke proved itself very well adjusted — the Blue Devils took a top-five finish in 18 different events over the course of the weekend.

“It was really good,” said head coach Shawn Wilbourn following the meet. “The women performed well, as expected, and we got great performances in all groups. That's what I was the most pleased with — just showing our depth and our ability to compete well … It was just a solid weekend.”

Much of Duke’s success in Raleigh came from the same athletes who stood on podiums all throughout the indoor season. These are veterans like sophomore Megan McGinnis, who took first in the women’s 200m — and set a new personal record at 23.38 seconds — or her classmate Abby Geiser, who placed third in the women’s 100m.

The meet was titled well for Duke — as always, it was the relays where the Blue Devils showed their very best. On Saturday, Julia Jackson, Halle Bieber, Chyler Turner and Geiser placed second in the women’s 4x100m relay, finishing just 0.17 seconds behind Virginia. The women’s 4x400m quartet followed up a few hours later, one-upping that previous relay team by finishing first with Jenna Crean, Lauren Tolbert, Madison Mulder and McGinnis. Their lightning-quick time of 3:31.98 slots in as third-best in program history. 

“Madison Mulder is somebody that is improving quite a bit and she may end up being a stable spot on that team … and Jenna Crean could be as well,” said Wilbourn. “That's kind of what these early meets are for — to run some different people to see how they're doing and by the time we get to ACCs, we'll have our lineup figured out.”

Freshman talent broke out over the weekend, too, featuring a stellar performance from Tolbert, who scraped by Mulder to finish second in the women’s 400m. At 52.83 seconds, Tolbert narrowly missed the chance to set a new personal best.

“What that shows is that they're competitive and they're fighting to win, not just running the race,” said Wilbourn of the two freshmen.

For Duke, taking home gold at May’s ACC Outdoor Championships — as Wilbourn plans to — could become a reality. With the points that would come from an elite hurdling squad, this vision comes into focus for the Blue Devils. 

Wilbourn plans to harness previously untapped talent to improve in hurdles. Geiser, who runs best in short stretches, is testing the waters on the hurdling front.

“We think that she's gonna be one of the top hurdlers in the country in the next year or so,” said Wilbourn.

Things were not just memorable on the track this weekend, but on the field, too, with two first-place performances from the Blue Devil women. Sophomore Paige Sommers launched herself high in the pole vault invitational, leaping 4.15m to beat out all other competitors and break her personal outdoor record. Six-time NCAA Championship qualifier Chinenye Agina dominated the women’s high jump, getting up to 1.78m. Four other athletes on the women’s side claimed a top-five mark on the grass — six total for the Duke women in the field alone.

“I think our women's team is right where I expect them to be,” said Wilbourn. “Maybe even a little ahead of what I expected.”

The women’s team is, however, losing a key asset for middle and long distance. Wilbourn provided an update on ACC Cross Country Freshman of the Year Dalia Frias, who has not competed since the ACC Indoor Championships in February and who is no longer on Duke’s roster. The Hermosa Beach, Calif., native will transfer in the fall.

“She will be transferring. I don't know where … So she will not be with us in the spring,” said Wilbourn.

Duke’s men did not compare with the Blue Devil women, who may have earned an overall victory had the meet been scored. But the men’s team showed significant improvement from the indoor season, making waves in a number of field events.

“The guys that we're counting on this outdoor season stepped up and either won or broke school records,” said Wilbourn.

These men wrapped up the weekend with three wins and two second-place finishes: Maxwell Forte won the men’s long jump, Jonathan Horn ended up at the top of the men’s pole vault competition and senior Beau Allen jumped 2.06m to take second in the men’s high jump. Graduate student Robbie Otal took gold in discus to reset Duke’s school record in the event. His throw of 61.55m puts him in competition with the nation’s very best.

Duke’s next opportunity will come next weekend at the VertKlasse Meeting in High Point, N.C., which runs Friday and Saturday.

Sophie Levenson profile
Sophie Levenson | Sports Managing Editor

Sophie Levenson is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume.


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