Throwers shine as Duke track and field resets the record books at Doc Hale Invitational

Duke's throwers were especially dominant at the Doc Hale Invitational.
Duke's throwers were especially dominant at the Doc Hale Invitational.

Although many Blue Devils in Durham might not have felt like celebrating this weekend given the men’s basketball team’s loss to North Carolina, the track and field athletes up in Virginia brought home plenty of consolation. 

As sprinters, jumpers, throwers and long-distance athletes alike traveled to compete at Virginia Tech’s Doc Hale Invitational in Blacksburg, Va., over two days, the Blue Devils scorched more than just the track, jumping and throwing their way to yet another record-fest. 

“Our throwers really stood out … [they’re] performing at a high level right now,” head coach Shawn Wilbourn said after the meet. 

Even though there were 11 schools represented in the men’s weight throw, it was Duke versus Duke when it came down to it. In a slew of back-and-forth attempts, graduate students Christian Johnson and Aimar Palma Simo drove each other to first- and second-place finishes, respectively, demolishing the program record in the process. Although the duo both recorded throws of 21.34 meters, good for a tie atop the Duke all-time list, Johnson clinched the official win at the meet due to a measurement tie-breaker across all six of his attempts. 

For Johnson, who improved on his school record set last month at the JDL Mondo Invite, the top-berth was an extra cherry on top. For Palma Simo on the other hand, the performance was nothing but special, a personal best by a considerable margin of two feet. 

Duke women’s weight throw saw yet another program record fall come Friday, too, courtesy of graduate student Zoe Waddell. After a solid start, Waddell struck gold on her third attempt, sending her weight whistling all the way to the 19.78m mark. Good for a fourth-place finish, the Bozeman, Mont., product’s throw upended her previous personal best by a whopping five feet, launching her straight up from fifth to first in the school record book. 

Senior Moorea Mitchell heaped on another career-best for the Blue Devils, throwing 19.47m to better her No. 3 all-time mark. A day later, graduate student MaKayla Mason made a splash in the shot put with a runner-up finish, tossing her way to 16.56m on her very first attempt, nearly a three-foot improvement from her No. 2 all-time spot in the Blue Devil charts. 

For Wilbourn, the dominance of the throwers is just one part of a trend in the right direction. 

“When you look at how we're progressing each week, we have people getting better, we have people stepping up,” he said.

On Saturday, graduate student Tia Rozario stepped up, jumping 12.79m and delivering the best performance of her career en route to a fourth-place finish in the triple jump. On just her first attempt, Rozario took  three giant leaps toward not only a foot-and-a-half improvement on her No. 2 all-time Duke mark, but also a brand new Singapore National Indoor record. 

Fellow graduate jumper Ezra Mellinger posted not one, but two top-five Duke records in both events he competed in Friday to join the record-breaking extravaganza. With a tremendous long jump of 7.66m — a personal record and a tie for third all-time in the Blue Devil books — he never stepped off the gas, notching another best of 6.72 seconds in the prelims of the men’s 60m, the second-best performance in Duke history.

“Our sprinters are the backbone of our team,” Wilbourn said. “Right now, we're just trying to get them all healthy and everybody performing well at the same time.”

While this weekend’s invite wasn’t the all-out test of sprinting ability that championship season will undoubtedly bring, it did serve as a good measure of the long hours and intense workouts that winter training has provided. Of the eight Blue Devil women — and the rest of their competitors — that raced in the 200m, graduate student Halle Bieber claimed the top overall spot, dashing her way to a 23.55-second victory. Right on her heels, graduate transfer Tina Martin etched her name into Blue Devil lore, clocking a time of 23.81, good for silver and the No. 4 all-time spot. 

At a slightly-longer sprint distance, the women’s 4x400m relay saw the unit of Bieber, Martin and sophomores Lauren Tolbert and Julia Jackson prevail, slicing through the finish line in a speedy 3:38.62. This week, the foursome’s mission was plain and simple: run quick enough to make it into the fast heat at ACCs. With their time, they did just that, sitting at fourth on the ACC performance list. 

Next weekend, the Blue Devils will split ways to travel up north to Boston for the BU Valentine Invitational and south to the Tiger Paw Invitational at Clemson. 

“Next weekend. That's final dress rehearsal as we prepare for the ACC Championships,” Wilbourn said.


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