Otal's record in discus, women's 4x400-meter win headlines Duke track and field's weekend at VertKlasse Meeting

The Duke women's 4x400 team at February's Tiger Paw Invitational in Clemson, S.C.
The Duke women's 4x400 team at February's Tiger Paw Invitational in Clemson, S.C.

The Blue Devils had a field day.

Friday morning, Duke geared up for the short trip to High Point, N.C., for the outdoor season’s third weekend of competition, this time at the VertKlasse Meeting. Through Saturday evening, Vert Stadium was filled with programs from all over the Southeast — notably featuring ACC competitors Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. The Blue Devils claimed 24 top-five finishes and polished off a successful weekend with graduate thrower Robbie Otal setting program, meet and facility records in the discus.

“I think that the first part of the outdoor season has been very productive, we're discovering some younger talent that is starting to come into form,” said head coach Shawn Wilbourn on Sunday. “We're excited for what we think is going to be a very high-level championship part of our season.”

Field events stepped into the spotlight at the VertKlasse. Efforts on the grass were headlined by Otal, who sent the discus 62.06 meters out into the field — a nationally-competitive distance that beat out every other athlete at the meet by at least four meters. 

The Oak Park, Calif., native surprised nobody with this performance, however. It was simply the latest in his series of event wins; The graduate student is filling his final season of athletic eligibility with victories, this being his third thus far.

“Robbie in the discus … that was the highlight,” said Wilbourn. “He continues to get better. He's one of the best discus throwers in the nation right now and we're just excited for him as we get to the championship season.”

The rest of the men’s field team followed suit after Otal. Senior Beau Allen snagged first in the high jump, reaching 2.10 meters, while his classmate Tyler Hrbek clinched second in the pole vault. It seemed that Saturday’s success on the field was inspired by Friday’s, which was similarly dominated by Duke. Junior Myles Schreck reset the school record in the hammer, pushing it up to 60.19 meters — good for a second-place finish at the meet. Landing a few feet behind him was a throw from senior Jide Akinjisola that earned him a fifth-place spot, reminding the world that there’s plenty of Blue Devil talent to go around.

“We think we can compete for another ACC title on the women's side, and I think you're going to see a much improved men's program at the ACC championships,” said Wilbourn.

Duke women stepped up on the field as well. Graduate student Chinenye Agina jumped to second in Saturday’s high jump event while the rest of her team worked to log four other top-five field finishes. Of course, in contrast to the men's side, the real magic of the women’s team is on the track.

Wilbourn spent this weekend sharpening those weapons. He let speedy Blue Devils like sophomore Megan McGinnis take the weekend off, instead focusing on refining the talent among other members of the team. 

“It was an opportunity for some of the younger kids to compete and for us to evaluate, to see how they're progressing,” Wilbourn commented. 

A true testament to Duke’s depth, then, came in the preservation of the program’s undefeated women’s 4x400-meter race. Despite not running his fastest athletes like McGinnis, Wilbourn’s team clinched a comfortable first-place at 3:46.08, which is a solid 15 seconds slower than their season best. This just goes to show that Duke has nothing to worry about; a slow day for a Blue Devil is a fast day for anyone else.

“It's just kind of an audition,” said Wilbourn. “We're giving different people opportunities to showcase their skills and to try to make that final top 4x400 relay team that we will run at ACCs and NCAAs.”

This is just the kind of mindset that Duke needs to round up the spring. With every meet, the women’s team gets closer to reaching the light at the end of the tunnel — an ACC championship — while the men are starting to prove that they are in conversation with the top five, too. Talent like Otal’s, which Duke missed for the indoor season, is the kind of extra push that could send the Blue Devil men over the edge.

“I think you'll start to see us at full strength in two weeks when we get to Mt. SAC. We'll run out in California with our top kids and we hope to be really performing at a high level from there on out.”

Before jetting off to California, the Blue Devils will compete in the comfort of their own home base. The Duke Invitational meet starts on Thursday — the only one that the school will host all season.

“Our kids really like to compete at home,” said Wilbourn. “They get hyped up for it. So it's a fun thing for them, and we're excited.”

Sophie Levenson profile
Sophie Levenson | Sports features editor

Sophie Levenson is a Trinity sophomore and sports features editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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