Duke track and field runs the table at Duke Invitational, shatters meet records in throws and sprints

Lauren Tolbert rounds the bend during the Duke Invitational.
Lauren Tolbert rounds the bend during the Duke Invitational.

Home-field advantage is commonly understood as one of the biggest multipliers in sports. Under pleasant weekend conditions at the Duke Invitational, the Blue Devils’ track and field team lived up to one of sports’ best-known adages.

With several ACC teams coming to town in lieu of conference championships in a month, Duke put on a show on its home turf, displaying the completeness of its roster with top-five finishes across the board during the weekend. The women’s team proved particularly dominant, helping the Blue Devils shatter numerous meet and program records in the process.

“We always have performed well at this meet,” said head coach Shawn Wilbourn. “Our kids love competing in front of the home crowd, and being able to sleep in their own beds and [being] on campus really benefits them.”

While Thursday only saw the women’s and men’s hammer events, both were still large successes for the Blue Devils. In the former, senior Moorea Mitchell registered a throw of 58.74 meters, the highest of any collegiate athlete at the invitational, while graduate student Zoe Waddell earned a fourth-place finish. The men’s hammer saw the trio of Aimar Palma Simo, Christian Johnson and Christian Toro earn the top-three spots, while all earning personal-best throws. Palma Simo broke his own school record with a throw of 71.48 meters, which occurred on his fifth attempt.

“Those are two of the top performances in the country,” Wilbourn said, referring to Palma Simo and Johnson. “That’s an incredible performance by a true freshman,” he added of Toro. “[I’m] really excited to have him in our program.”

On Friday evening, Duke got right to work in the women’s 200-meter dash, earning three of the top-five finishes and eight of the top-15. Graduate student Halle Bieber came in first with a 23.46 time, while freshman Mia Edim and sophomore Julia Jackson earned third- and fourth-place finishes, respectively. Notably, Jackson finished above fifth-placed Angel Frank by a razor-thin margin of three milliseconds. Graduate student Tina Martin, one of Duke’s best sprinters, fell during her race, preventing an even more dominant showing by the Blue Devils.

Later in the evening, the 800-meter invitational proved fruitful for both teams. Junior Beck Wittstadt placed first in the men’s race with a personal-best time of 1:47.45, just a second off the meet record. In the women’s race, sophomore Lauren Tolbert led the Blue Devils with a fourth-place finish in 2:03.17, matching her personal-best time. 

When the women’s 1500-meter invitational rolled around, Charlotte Tomkinson produced one of the best distance showings of the season. The senior earned a first-place finish in 4:15.68, both a personal-best and a meet record by nearly three seconds. In a very different, yet equally dominant performance earlier in the day, graduate student Ezra Mellinger matched his own meet record in the long jump with a 7.50-meter showing.

Saturday started off particularly strong for the women’s team. In the 4x100 relay, the quartet of Edim, Abby Geiser, Bieber and Maddy Doane earned a first-place finish with a time of 43.97, confidently beating runner-up Appalachian State by 1.11 seconds. Less than an hour later, graduate student Skyla Wilson emerged victorious in the 100-meter hurdles in 13.36. The cherry on top of these early-afternoon performances was the 400-meter dash, where Lauren Tolbert, Megan McGinnis and Jackson claimed the top-three spots in the race. Tolbert, who did not show in last year’s 400-meter dash at the Duke Invitational, set a meet record with a time of 52.19 seconds.

In the women’s 100-meter dash, Edim and Geiser earned third- and fifth-place finishes, respectively, with Edim notching a personal-best time. After freshman Jill Roberts impressed with a 15th-place finish in the seventh heat, Edim and Geiser quickly rushed over to congratulate her.

“It’s part of our culture,” said Wilbourn about the team’s supportive atmosphere. “The team aspect comes into play when your teammates are cheering for you — you’re going to perform better. That’s part of the team that we try to cultivate.”

While the women’s team stole the spotlight in many events, the men’s team proved dominant Saturday, too. Graduate student Marten Gasparini and freshman Matt Prebola garnered second- and third-place finishes in the javelin, with Gasparini just 0.63 meters off from first-place. Meanwhile, senior Alejandro Rodriguez impressed in the 400-meter dash with a personal-best time of 47.36, good for a sixth-place finish. In the 100-meter dash, Mellinger would tie the knot on his impressive meet with a personal-best and fourth-place finish. Lastly, Zubeir Dagane, Jeremy Kain, Will Atkins and Jake Winslow earned the top-four spots in the 800-meter run. 

Following its successful outing at home, Duke travels to Winston-Salem, N.C., Friday to take on the Wake Forest Invitational in its penultimate regular-season race weekend. Last season, the Blue Devils won seven events at the meet, a mark they will hope to match or exceed this year.

“When you look across the board, you’re going to see Duke winning the majority of these events,” Wilbourn said. “I think that just goes to show the depth … and strength of our team and just how the program is progressing each year. We’re still breaking school records, and I’m just excited to continue to watch this program.”


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