In Friday’s ACC Cross Country Championships, junior Amina Maatoug led the Blue Devils with a spectacular second-place finish, the highest since Duke runner Juliet Bottorff won individual gold in 2013. With five ranked teams going into Friday’s race, including the winner of the previous seven ACC team titles (N.C. State), the ACC is — and always has been — one of the deepest conferences in the nation. In an event where even placing top-21 to earn all-ACC honors is a tough feat to accomplish, Maatoug went above and beyond, finishing ahead of all but one of her 143 competitors.
As the men’s race came and went Friday morning, Maatoug lined up with her teammates in a cramped starting box, arms bent and legs primed for the sound of the gun. Moments later, she got out as fast as her legs could take her, joining a horde of elite athletes fighting for a spot near the front.
From the start, Maatoug stayed relaxed, settling into the back of the lead pack. Only in eighth place at the 2.2k mark, she worked her way up like a veteran, picking off her opponents one-by-one, her sights set on the front. By the 4k mark, Maatoug was in fourth, trying to keep up with an increasingly fast pace set by the Wolfpack’s defending national champion Katelyn Tuohy. Eventually, the lead pack dwindled to three: Maatoug, Tuohy and N.C. State senior Kelsey Chmiel, last year’s NCAA bronze medalist. At the end of the 6k race, Maatoug had split the duo up, charging to the line in 19:29.9 for a second-place finish.
After her promising season with the Blue Devils last fall, Maatoug’s impressive finish Friday hardly comes as a surprise. Fresh from a U18 national title in her native Netherlands, Maatoug won her first meet for Duke, pacing a blistering 16:57.3 for the women at the 2022 Virginia Invitational. By the end of the cross country season, she’d run her way to fourth place in the ACC Championship and 28th at the national meet.
Soon afterward, Maatoug made waves throughout her indoor season: All-American in both the 3000m and the one-mile race, breaking former Olympian Shannon Rowbury’s school record while she was at it. Three months and four more school records later, Maatoug was a certified superstar, placing fifth in the 5000m at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championship.
With the NCAA Regional meet right around the corner in Spartanburg, S.C., Maatoug is undoubtedly the Duke distance squad’s greatest asset. As the group looks to qualify for nationals, each athlete will need to bring their A-game. Maatoug, for one, is ready, and head coach Angela Reckart is more than happy to follow along.
“I think today she realized, okay, I can do the longer distances … coming from more of a middle distance background,” Reckart said.
Bringing with her personal bests ranging from 2:03.45 in the 800m to 15:48.22 for 5k, Maatoug has both the speed and endurance necessary to be competitive on a national stage. This season, she has been nothing short of dependable, with consistent finishes of 11th and and seventh at the Nuttycombe and Virginia Invitationals, respectively, in insanely stacked fields.
According to Reckart, the Dutch distance phenom “said she felt really great” Friday. In a sport where athletes regularly drop to the ground at the finish line, “feeling really great” is a special occurrence. The NCAAs are just three weeks away, and the already on-fire Maatoug might just have an extra gear that she hasn’t yet discovered. Whether she makes it to Charlottesville, Va., with the rest of her team or not, Maatoug will be the one to watch.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.