Wallenstrom smashes meet record, field athletes excel for Duke track and field at VertKlasse Meeting

Sam Wallenstrom rounds the bend during Raleigh Relays.
Sam Wallenstrom rounds the bend during Raleigh Relays.

After three days of new program records at Raleigh Relays, the Blue Devils traveled to High Point, N.C., Friday with different intentions. 

With championship season on the horizon, this weekend was about trying new things: new, younger faces, new events and new relay lineups. Still, even with some of Duke’s top athletes training through the meet, the Blue Devils came through with several event wins and standout performances. 

“The biggest takeaway from the meet was how well our field event athletes did,” head coach Shawn Wilbourn said after the meet. 

In a masterclass of horizontal jumping, graduate students Ezra Mellinger and Tia Rozario proved consistent as ever, leading the way for their younger teammates as they produced the top marks in their respective events. In the women’s triple jump, Rozario clinched her first win of the outdoor season, landing atop the leaderboard after leaping out to a season-best 13.05m (42-9.75 feet) on her sixth and final attempt. In a field of 31 athletes, Rozario established true dominance, finishing nearly two feet ahead of the runner-up. 

In the men’s long jump, Mellinger did much the same, winning the event for the second week in a row— this time with the best performance of his entire career. After jumping farther on each of his first four attempts, Mellinger exploded out to 7.53m (24-8.50 feet) on his fifth try, effectively demolishing his 40 competitors. 

“[Mellinger] is our most versatile men’s athlete right now,” Wilbourn said. “He can sprint, he can jump and he can run relays, which we may ask him to do down the road.”

Beyond the horizontal jumps, Duke’s other field athletes got busy. After an indoor season that didn’t include javelin in its slate of events, the start of spring is when javelin throwers get to demonstrate their potential. In the men’s javelin Friday, sophomore Matthew Prebola did just that, sending his javelin sailing to a personal best of 65.81m (215-11 feet) to finish as a runner-up. Not far behind, graduate student Joseph DiDario took the bronze with a mark of 62.43m (204-10 feet). Fellow graduate student Kirsten West placed second in the women’s javelin, coming through with a season-best 42.81m (140-5 feet). 

The vertical jumpers put up strong showings too as high jumpers and pole vaulters alike came and delivered. On Saturday, senior Addie Renner got things started with a season’s best 1.72m (5-7.75 feet) clearance in the women’s high jump, good for third place. Soon after, graduate student Beau Allen took to the high jump apron for the men, clearing 2.10m to claim second place. In the women’s pole vault, junior Paige Sommers and freshman Gemma Tutton went for a 5-7 finish, respectively, both leveling out at 4.16m (13-7.75 feet), a season’s best for Sommers. 

Undoubtedly, one of the mightiest performances of the weekend came from junior Sam Wallenstrom. After a year sidelined with injury, Wallenstrom only ran a handful of meets last indoor season. This weekend, however, Wallenstrom showcased her true potential, winning the women’s 800m and shattering the meet record with 2:08.68 on the clock — one week after running a personal best of 2:07.60 at Raleigh Relays. 

“This is her first solid stretch of training healthy,” Wilbourn said. “We’re excited for her because we do think she's going to continue to get better.”

The short sprints brought more fresh faces to the table, starting with freshman Mia Edim. After securing her first collegiate win with an 11.83-second sprint in the women’s 100m participate division, Edim followed up with a runner-up finish and personal best of 24.08 in the participate 200m. Right ahead of Edim, graduate student Skyla Wilson brought the heat to outrun the 108-person field in 23.93 seconds. Without skipping a beat, WIlson came back to blitz her way to second place in the 100m hurdles, tying her personal record and No. 5 all-time mark of 13.35 seconds.

In a surprise twist, the women’s 100m and 200m open races saw 400m regulars like junior Megan McGinnis compete — the coaching staff used the meet as an opportunity to develop their long sprinters’ base speed. In the 100m, graduate student Maddy Doane, junior Abby Geiser and senior Hailey WIlliams all ran 11.84 seconds, each separated by less than a hundredth of a second. As it played out, Doane came out on top in sixth place, followed closely behind by Geiser and then Williams. A couple hours later, Doane and Geiser returned to the oval for the 4x100m relay, joining McGinnis and Edim to dash their way to 45.86 seconds and victory.

Still, even though the recently 19th-ranked Blue Devils women’s team in the NCAA shows a lot of promise, Wilbourn’s mindset hasn’t changed. 

“Our sprinters are running well, [but] we’ve got to get better,” he said. 

This coming Thursday through Saturday at the Duke Invitational, the Blue Devils will continue to chase personal records and all-time marks, this time with a home-field advantage.


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