Duke track and field shows out at Wake Forest Invitational in penultimate regular-season meet

Graduate student Robbie Otal throws the discus in April's Duke Invitational.
Graduate student Robbie Otal throws the discus in April's Duke Invitational.

When it’s spring at Duke and the weekend rolls around, it’s clear what’s going on: It must be time for a track meet.

The Blue Devils hopped over to Winston-Salem, N.C., to spend their Friday on the track at Kentner Stadium. They were joined by a slew of schools from all over the Eastern Seaboard, ranging from Harvard to Florida State; the Wake Forest Invitational welcomed ACC rivals as well as nonconference competitors to join in one of the last meets of the season. Duke slotted top finishers in nearly every event it competed in, with, notably, the women’s team firing on all cylinders and winning six separate events.

“This time of year we're trying to figure out our roster for ACCs,” said head coach Shawn Wilbourn. “And we're competing the ones that we feel need the competition and we're training the ones that don't.”

Those six victories were the fruits of a joint effort between women’s sprinters and field athletes. The first win came in the morning, when graduate student Isabel Wakefield and freshman Gianna Locci clinched a pair of first- and second-place finishes in the women’s long jump. Wakefield not only earned the gold medal in that event but also reset her personal best, jumping for 6.39m — also putting her in a hopeful spot for the ACC championship, where she will have the chance to compete in a number of important events. The athlete from across the pond is nothing if not versatile, trying her hand at all sorts of competitions ranging from sprints to javelin throws.

“Izzy [Wakefield] … did not compete a lot and was a little bit under the weather at Mt. SAC. So we competed her to give her that opportunity that she missed while we were out in California,” said Wilbourn. “Every decision we're making is to just try to make sure that the individual athlete is ready to compete … when we get to ACCs and Regionals and NCAAs.”

That’s exactly what this meet was about: preparation. Friday came around after a long weekend out in California, where Duke took part in both the Mt. SAC Relays and the Bryan Clay Invitational. The Wake Forest Invitational, then, gave the athletes who did not travel the weekend prior a chance to throw their hats in the ring and polish off their race techniques before the last meet of the regular season. 

They threw those hats far. Following the joint successes of Wakefield and Locci, another duo stepped into the spotlight. Graduate student Emily Sloan and sophomore Chyler Turner took first and second place, respectively, in the women’s 100m hurdles. This Blue Devil pair matched perfectly in stride: Sloan crossed the finish line just a fraction of a second before Turner, both women coming within a half-second of their personal records.

“Some of the student-athletes that have not had a lot of opportunity to compete in the bigger meets, we wanted to make sure we got a chance to give them an opportunity, to see how they were developing,” Wilbourn said.

The meet allowed some of the lesser-known runners on Duke’s roster a chance to shine. Junior Brianna Smith took first in the women’s high jump to beat out a triad of Wake Forest athletes who landed just centimeters below her and junior Maya Provencal won second in the women’s 100m dash. It was a similar story on the men’s side of things, where freshman Guinness Brown, trying out collegiate track for the first time this season, clinched third and fourth in the 200m and 400m and came within a second of his personal bests in both events. The Butler, Pa., native looks to be a key piece of the Blue Devil squad in coming years as he develops raw talent into something great.

“He's a very talented freshman who's just developing and we expect great things down the road from Guinness,” said Wilbourn. “He'll make the ACC roster and he'll get that experience … We know down the road he's going to be a major contributor.”

None of this is to say, however, that some of Duke’s bigger names didn’t show out. Sure, the women’s 4x400m team took a break this weekend, but other track stars — like freshman sprinter Lauren Tolbert — did not. In fact, Tolbert made an appearance to quickly win an event before enjoying the rest of her weekend. The Belmont, N.C., native clocked an easy 2:04.87 in the women’s 800m invite, slotted her name among the top-five fastest times in program history for the event and went home.

In a similar fashion, graduate student Robbie Otal, the man who has now lodged himself deeply in Duke track and field history as its best discus thrower to date, earned his own victory. Otal out-threw his competitors by nearly three meters, hitting a 59.62m mark with his discus to win the men’s event unequivocally.

“We didn't compete a lot of people but the ones we did compete, did well,” said Wilbourn.

The team will next take on the Penn Relays starting Thursday in Philadelphia for the final meet of the season before that ever-anticipated conference championship comes around in May.

“We're in a good spot. Penn Relays … it'll be fun for them,” said Wilbourn. “It's a great environment. And then as soon as we get back from Penn, the focus will be on ACCs.” 


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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