Penn Relays yield record-breaking performances for Duke track and field ahead of postseason

Freshman Lauren Tolbert participated in the 4x400m at Penn Relays, breaking the ACC record.
Freshman Lauren Tolbert participated in the 4x400m at Penn Relays, breaking the ACC record.

For many track athletes, ending the regular season in rough weather can prove especially challenging. For Duke at the Penn Relays, it was just another weekend.

The Blue Devils showed out at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, posting nine top-five finishes. Most excitingly, the women’s 4x400m relay team, composed of Julia Jackson, Lauren Tolbert, Madison Mulder and Megan McGinnis, ran the fastest 4x400m relay in ACC history. 

“It’s just crazy that we ran that fast and got third… that’s how competitive that field was,” said head coach Shawn Wilbourn on the relay team. “It’s just great to see those girls run that fast… that bodes well for [the postseason].”

The men’s team had no shortage of record-breakers either, as the mile relay squad featuring Austin Gabay, James Lee, Beck Wittstadt and Nick Dahl finished sixth with a time of 16:14.67, breaking a Duke school record from 1973.

“That’s a record that Duke in the past [has tried to break] at the Penn Relays and the Raleigh Relays and has not been able to do it,” said Wilbourn, who noted how the top six teams were separated by less than a second. “I’m really proud of those guys and how well they ran.”

In place of individual distance events, Duke sent its best runners at the Penn Relays to perform in relays and running medleys. In the women’s sprint medley, Abby Geiser, Halle Bieber and McGinnis combined for a strong time of 1:40.30 in the first 800 meters before Amina Maatoug closed out the race with a steadfast 2:12.04 800m run. Maatoug, alongside Karly Forker, McGinnis and Tolbert, starred in a solid distance medley, where McGinnis combined her lightning-quick 50.19-second split from the 4x400m with a 52.26-second split in the medley. Meanwhile, Dahl ended the men’s distance medley running a sturdy 4:03.43 in the 1600m. 

“We wanted to just focus on the relays and the team aspect… as we had in the ACC, where… the focus is [on the team],” said Wilbourn. The head coach mused about the effect the weather had on which events the team participated in, recalling how the Duke Invitational weeks earlier had similar weather trends.

Duke’s throwers gave a strong boost to the team’s overall performance. On the women’s side, Dana Baker and Ilhame Tamrouti placed second and third, respectively, in the javelin throw. For the men, Luke Jackson finished third in javelin, while Jide Akinjisola and graduate student Robbie Otal placed second in hammer and discus, respectively.

“Robbie is kind of a leader of that group. He’s the most mature, and … his performances can elevate the rest of the group,” said Wilbourn, who also highlighted the javelin throwers. “It really is a team effort, and it’s happy to see … the throwers contribute to that team effort.” 

Alongside Penn Relays, several Blue Devils took part in the Charlotte Invitational, which also took place over the weekend. Duke took 17 top-five finishes.

With the conclusion of the Penn Relays and the Charlotte Invitational, Duke’s regular season has ended and the Blue Devils now look to the ACC Championships beginning May 11 in Raleigh. With Jackson, Tolbert, Mulder and McGinnis leading the sprints and Maatoug serving as the anchor of the team’s distance runners, the women look to avenge the indoor season’s ACC loss by winning the first outdoor conference title in Duke history.

Following a third-to-last finish in the ACC Indoor Championships, the men’s team has steadily improved and is expected to boost its standings in the conference. Otal and Akinjisola should power the team with their throwing, while Dahl, Jackson Walker, Guinness Brown and others hope to move the needle on the track.

“[The team is] performing at a high level right now,” Wilbourn said. “And we expect them to place much higher than we did indoors.”


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