Duke track and field breaks records across the board at Penn Relays, Charlotte Invitational

Lauren Tolbert helped the Blue Devil women reset their No. 2 program record in the 4x800m.
Lauren Tolbert helped the Blue Devil women reset their No. 2 program record in the 4x800m.

Last week, Philadelphia news channels told their readers to “Expect traffic delays and shutdowns.” 

Thursday through Saturday, Franklin Field was home to the Penn Relays, the most-watched and oldest track meet in the world, save the Olympics and World Championships. Franklin Field has hosted Usain Bolt and Jesse Owens, and for years now, the Blue Devils.

During three days of competition, Duke notched individual successes and all-time program marks, headlined by a school record in the women’s distance medley relay. At the same time, the Blue Devils sent a group of athletes to the Charlotte Invitational to fine tune their skills in time for the ACC Championships.

“We wanted to enjoy the Penn Relays,” head coach Shawn Wilbourn said. “But we also wanted to compete.”

Thursday, the hammer throw trio — graduate students Christian Johnson and Aimar Palma Simo with freshman Christian Toro — got a fire lit with a set of mammoth performances, as all three finished within the top five. Flinging his hammer 69.72m, Johnson led the way for the Duke men with a runner-up finish, followed closely behind by Palma Simo in third with a throw of 69.39m. Toro rounded out with a fifth place finish, elevating his No. 3 all-time program mark to a personal best of 65.18m. 

“It’s been awesome to see our throws program really stepping up to another level,” Wilbourn said.

The highlight of the second day was undoubtedly the women’s distance medley relay. After three strong legs from graduate students Julia Fenerty and Maddy Doane and freshman Iris Downes, senior Charlotte Tomkinson raced to a sixth-place finish in a strong 1600m split of 4:34.25, shattering Duke’s previous No.1 mark with 10:55.48 on the clock. 

Duke sprinting depth was on full display, courtesy of the women’s 4x200m relay squad. Friday, up-and-coming freshman Mia Edim joined a seasoned upperclassman trio of Halle Bieber, Abby Geiser and Megan McGinnis in an intense dash to the tape. They placed second in the championship race in 1:34.32 — now No. 2 in all-time program lore.

The women weren’t the only ones who showed out. In the men’s DMR, junior Beck Wittstadt, seniors Austin Gabay and Alejandro Rodriguez and graduate student Ryan Wilson came together from their wide range of event specialties to run 9:37.24 and clinch their own No. 4 all-time spot in the Blue Devil books.

Back in Charlotte, the first day of the competition brought five of everything: five events and five top-five placements. Graduate distance duo Jacob Winslow and Rory Cavan got the day started with second- and third-place finishes in the men’s 1500 invitational, clocking 3:42.57 and 3:43.65, respectively. After two quick laps around the track, sophomore Jeremy Kain notched a fourth place finish of his own in the men’s 800m. For the women, sophomore Anna Corcoran kicked to fourth over 1500m. At double the distance, junior Katie Hamilton had quite the day, destroying her personal best in the women’s 3000m steeplechase by 17 seconds, her time of 10:31.01 good for bronze.

“With the cold weather that we had today, here at Penn, we had some really good performances,” Wilbourn said after the meet. 

Despite that weather, the field athletes were out in full force Saturday. One with her discus, graduate student MaKayla Mason sent it flying to 52.67m, smashing her personal best and No. 2 all-time mark enroute to a second place finish at Penn Relays. Soon after, senior Brianna Smith increased the day’s silver tally to two, clearing 1.79m in the high jump at Franklin Field. A few states away, graduate student Beau Allen and senior Addie Renner kept the fire lit in the men’s and women’s high jumps, placing first and third, respectively. Gianna Locci flew to a monster distance of 5.96m, placing second in the women’s long jump. And in a league of their own, graduate “Bounce House” superstars Ezra Mellinger and Tia Rozario brought it home, winning the men’s long jump and women’s triple jump.

“We're going to be counting on them,” Wilbourn said. “We’ve got to get some points out of our jumpers at ACCs.”

In both meets, all of Duke’s event groups were locked and loaded. Graduate student Skyla Wilson headlined the Blue Devil hurdlers, pacing 13.21 seconds in the women’s 100m hurdles at Penn Relays, good for not only third place, but also No. 3 all-time in the school record books. Speedy in their own right, graduate hurdler Birgen Nelson and junior Chyler Turner finished first and second in the same event down in Charlotte, cheered on by their teammate Michael Bennet, who placed second in the men’s 400m hurdle event. And when it was freshman pole vaulter Gemma Tutton’s turn to bat, she delivered, soaring to 4.35m to get place third in the event and on Duke’s all-time list — a new freshman record. 

“[Tutton] is an amazing talent,” Wilbourn said. “She's going to be exciting over the next few years.”

The final day at Franklin Field was every bit the relay carnival for the Blue Devil women, no matter the distance. In the 4x100m relay, the same foursome from the 4x200m secured a fourth place finish right before the 4x800m women’s squad — Samantha Wallenstrom, Lauren Tolbert, Fenerty and Tomkinson — took it away, sprinting to silver in 8:28.37 and slotting themselves No. 2 all-time in program lore. To cap off a historic weekend, a 4x400m quartet of Julia Jackson, Tolbert, Wilson and McGinnis stormed to a fourth place finish in 3:30.86.

After a wholly successful weekend across every event group on the track and field, Wilbourn is pumped.  

“It gives our team confidence going into the postseason and that's kind of how we planned it,” Wilbourn said.

The Blue Devils have one more opportunity to get in shape, at the Liberty Qualifier in Lynchburg, Va., May 1, before they find out whether their months of hard work were enough in Atlanta at the ACC Championships.


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