After a two-week break to rest and recover from the N.C. Central Dual meet that started in Wallace Wade Stadium, the women returned to the starting line to take on several nationally-ranked teams in Louisville, Ky.
The Greater Louisville Classic, where the women finished ninth, was a chance for Duke to try to earn some points by beating one of the several ranked teams present. The NCAA championship meet will also be hosted in Louisville, so in addition to being an opportunity to gain points, the Classic provided a chance for the squad to get a sense of what racing there in the future might be like. According to senior frontrunner Juliet Bottorff, a good performance at this past weekend’s meet would translate into a less stressful Regional meet toward the end of the season.
“[Getting points] was a huge reason for going there,” Bottorff said. “We don’t want to have the pressure of having to get top two at Regionals, because the region is pretty strong. The main point of this race for all of us was a chance to show what we could do in a large setting, to show the rest of the world.”
Bottorff was certainly able to do that, as she crossed the finish line in fifth with a personal best of 16:58.94 in the 5K.
Although Bottorff—an NCAA Outdoor champion in the 10K—and senior Madeline Morgan—who came in second for the Blue Devils with a time of 17:29.05—are both accustomed to competing at high-level meets such as the Classic, several of the runners who raced this past Saturday are not.
Graduate student Megan Deakins ran her first cross country race this past weekend, debuting with a 46th-place finish in 17:34.92. Jesse Rubin, a junior who had not previously traveled to far-away meets with the team, was yet another Blue Devil who was new to the feeling of racing against such a strong field. Rubin followed her classmate Gabby Levac, who set a personal record time of 17:48.07, across the line with a time of 18:03.21. Rubin’s finish closed out the top five spots for the Blue Devils.
The men did not join the women in Louisville, but instead traveled to Cary, N.C., where they took first in the Great American Cross Country Festival.
Although the meet was a step down in terms of competition compared to the Panorama Farms Invitational that the top 11 runners had traveled to the week before, there was some extra motivation for the Blue Devils to run their hardest. The Duke team will only be taking its top 10 runners to the Pre-Nationals meet that will take place in two weeks, and because injuries forced several runners out of the previous meet, the last traveling spot was open to the winner of this meet. The chance to travel to Louisville to compete in the Pre-National meet is especially important in light of the fact that the NCAA Championship meet will be held on the same course.
As most of the top 10 runners cheered him on, junior Phil Fairleigh secured that spot as he crossed the finish line in first for the Blue Devils with a personal record time of 24:56.8. Teammate Brian Schoepfer, a sophomore, came in less than 18 seconds later with a time of 25:14.5 and senior Joseph Elsakr took third for the team in 25:21.0.
Junior Christian Britto took fourth for the Blue Devils in 25:22.7 in his season debut and was followed soon after by freshman Daniel Moore. Moore, who had set the course record in Cary during his high school career, rounded out the top-five for the Duke team with a time of 25:33.2 and was immediately surrounded by old teammates who had come to race in the high-school portion of the meet.
“The guys ran very well,” head coach Norm Ogilvie said. “We had a great turnout, with not only our varsity cross country guys but also our half-milers and a lot of support from out here around Duke. The guys responded really well.” Their support did not just come from the sidelines, however. Graduate Andrew Brodeur, Duke’s former frontrunner, now an assistant coach for the team, raced in front of the Blue Devil pack encouraging them the entire way. Broduer ran unattached and crossed the finish line in first. Despite the fact that he technically finished in second place, Fairleigh was more than happy to be running behind his old teammate.
“I was going to go out there and be the greatest American,” Fairleigh said, “but I guess I can settle for being the second greatest American.”
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