Duke track and field tunes up, shows out at Hokie Invitational, Dick Taylor Challenge

The Blue Devils split up over the weekend for a winter tune-up ahead of a grueling indoor season.
The Blue Devils split up over the weekend for a winter tune-up ahead of a grueling indoor season.

Duke divided its forces this weekend, tackling training trials in Blacksburg, Va., and Chapel Hill.

After a strong performance at the JDL Mondo College Invitational rust-buster, the Blue Devils competed this week in both Virginia Tech’s Hokie Invitational and North Carolina’s Dick Taylor Carolina Challenge. 

Head coach Shawn Wilbourn described Saturday evening how each facility served different functions and enabled the Blue Devils to test different environments. 

“Virginia Tech has a banked track, so our kids that we were wanting to see run on the oval we took to Virginia Tech, and if they just ran on a straightaway or [were] some of our field event athletes, we took them to UNC,” Wilbourn said. 

The split approach, focused on providing environments conducive to each event, meant the Blue Devils could continue the high intensity of past practices and meets. Such work in the early season will prepare the team for what is to come later on — the ACC and NCAA Indoor Championships — as coaches explore each athlete’s limits and “see how [their] athletes perform in different situations and on different tracks,” Wilbourn said. 

While Duke competed intentionally over the weekend, Wilbourn highlighted expectations for further growth. 

“We’re not where we want to be, but it takes a couple of meets for us to start to gel, and I think when we come back here in two weeks we’ll have more performances that are at a level we’re looking for,” he said.

The return to Blacksburg for the Doc Hale Invitational — following one weekend without team competition — will offer an indication of how the sprinters, jumpers and throwers will fare come championship time. 

“We’re hoping that [with] that weekend off, [their] bodies will start to adapt to the training,” Wilbourn said. “And then our distance runners performed well, they were solid this weekend, but really with them the goal is to go to Boston next weekend and really put up some great performances.”

For the distance runners, their trial takes place at next week’s BU Terrier Classic.   

Despite discussion of needed further improvement, the weekend was not without its share of great performances. 

Ezra Mellinger utilized Virginia Tech’s facility to break his own 21.46-second school record in the 200m, crossing the line in 21.35. Max Forte also achieved personal-best performances, jumping 7.66 meters — 2 centimeters away from tying the school record — and running 7.17 in the long jump and 60m dash respectively. Jeremy Kain set a personal best of 4:04.01 in the mile, winning the race.   

Between the fast-paced high-intensity competition environment surrounding the Blue Devils the past couple weeks and the smattering of strong showings in spite of it, Wilbourn remains cautiously excited about the future of ACC competition this season.

“I think one of the things we’re learning to do as a team is win individual events … That’s what we’re going to need to do when we get to the ACC Championship,” he said.

Moving beyond the “preseason” of indoor track, Wilbourn and Duke continue to prepare for the meets ahead. In Boston and in Blacksburg, the physically prepared Blue Devils are expected to showcase the rewards of past weeks of training.       

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