DURHAM, N.C. -- With the start of the 2014 Duke track and field season set for Jan. 17 at the Virginia Tech Invitational, GoDuke.com met with the Duke track and field coaching staff to discuss the upcoming season. Today’s preview focuses on the Duke throwers, headed by B.J. Linnenbrink.
Linnenbrink is excited for what 2014 holds for the Duke women’s and men’s throwing programs, with the combination of experience and young talent comprising Duke’s throwers.
“The women’s program is definitely poised to do some good things,” Linnenbrink said. “We had a little bit of a stumble last year, but we have so much experience back that I like our chances. I think the group dynamic is very good this year. I think all of the girls are very supportive of one another and everyone is dialed in to the same mission, which is to score as many points as we possibly can at the ACC meet and try to be an All-American.”
The men possess similar potential with the return of numerous competitors at the conference and national championship.
“Overall, I’m excited,” Linnenbrink said. “We’re poised to have a really solid year. They work incredibly hard and I’m excited to see it pay off for them.”
The Blue Devils boast depth and experience in the shot put entering 2014, returning redshirt senior Michelle Anumba and senior Erica Brand. Linnenbrink looks forward to a reinvigorated and refocused Anumba, following a 2013 outdoor season that ended prematurely due to injury.
“[Ending the season with an injury] didn’t sit well with her and it didn’t sit well with me as a coach,” Linnenbrink said. “I think it gave her renewed inspiration for this year. She’s kind of on a mission now. She’s been incredibly motivated, even with the rigorous academic challenges she has now.”
Duke’s top performer in the shot put, Anumba holds the school-record for both the indoor and outdoor shot put. Her 2013 indoor campaign culminated in All-ACC honors at the conference championship with a second-place finish, her fourth second-place finish of the season. The Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., native saw similar success during the outdoor campaign, opening with two first-place finishes and concluding the season with three individual victories. Anumba’s current indoor and outdoor personal-best throws sit at 55-9.75 (17.01) and 56-4.50 (17.18), respectively.
For the two-time shot put All-American and ACC Most Valuable Performer, the goals of her final collegiate season include a return to the national championship and contributing to the team’s overall score at the competition.
Although Brand focuses on the discus during the outdoor season, the Shawnee, Kan., native contributes regularly in the shot put, earning an eighth-place finish at the indoor conference championship in 2013. Brand entered the competition after setting a personal-record throw of 46-0.75 (14.04) earlier in the season.
“Erica has done very well in training so far this year,” Linnenbrink said. “I’m seeing throws out of her in practice that I’ve never seen before in the shot put, which is very exciting. I’m pretty anxious to get her going indoors.”
For the men, redshirt sophomore Stephen Boals returns as Duke’s top performer in the shot put, boasting throws of 55-7.75 (16.96) indoor and 57-9.50 (17.61) outdoor, ranking the Loomis, Calif., native fifth and fourth, respectively, on Duke’s all-time lists. Boals’ record-setting throw of 57-9.50 (17.61) earned him a third-place finish at the conference championship and All-ACC honors.
“Boals has had the best offseason of anyone, in terms of overall gains that he’s made in throwing and in his strength levels,” Linnenbrink said. “He’s had a tremendous offseason. I’d be shocked if good things don’t happen for him.”
Boals’ previous success in the shot put suggests the potential for an appearance in the final of the national championship after qualifying for the NCAA East First Round last season.
With a personal-best mark of 59-9.50, Anumba also returns as Duke’s all-time best performer in the weight throw. Similar to the shot put, Anumba looks to contribute at the conference meet in the weight throw, where she finished ninth a year ago. Anumba’s highest 2013 weight throw finish came at the Virginia Tech Challenge, where she placed first overall with a throw of 57-9.75 (17.62), two weeks after her season-best mark of 58-6.75 (17.85) at the Armory Collegiate.
Anumba’s range in the throws is evidenced by her ability to hold Duke all-time records in three events, including the hammer throw. Duke’s only entrant in the hammer throw in 2013, Anumba placed second in three of four meets, and concluded the season with a fifth-place showing at the ACC Championship with a season-best throw of 178-9 (54.49). Anumba’s record-setting throw of 187-4.00 (57.09) in 2012 broke Kelly Reynolds five-year record of 181-5.00 (55.29).
In his freshman campaign, sophomore Michael Foley established himself as Duke’s top-performer in the hammer throw, recording a school record mark of 189-4.00 (57.72) in just his second collegiate competition.
Foley, who Linnenbrink praises for continued growth in the hammer throw, placed fourth in his first ACC Championship appearance and looks to move up in the ranks to score additional points for the Blue Devils.
During a training session in Oct. 2013, redshirt senior Shannon Sullivan suffered a knee injury that forced the Wood-Ridge, N.J., native to miss the remainder of the season. Sullivan took full advantage of her recovery period, refining the minute components of her throwing motion.
“An injury is never a good thing, but in certain respects it was because it’s made her focus on some of her key mechanical issues she’s had in her throw and really work on just those things,” Linnenbrink said. “It’s really starting to look a lot better. When they fully release her back to start taking aggressive, hard throws, she’s going to be good.”
Sullivan solidified herself as Duke’s top javelin thrower during the 2012 season with a personal-best throw of 159-2.00 (48.51) at the ACC Championship meet. The effort not only earned Sullivan the second-place slot on Duke’s all-time list, but also garnered the ACC title, becoming the third Blue Devil to capture an ACC title in the javelin, and the second in two years.
“I think by the time this is all said and done this season, she may be deserving of some sort of comeback of a lifetime award,” Linnenbrink said.
The Duke throwing program also welcomes freshman Christine Streisel, who enters her first season as a Blue Devil with an impressive high school résumé. A third-place finisher at the Junior Nationals in 2012, Streisel’s experience goes beyond the national level, having competed at a number of international events during her high school career.
“Christine has a little bit of international competition experience,” Linnenbrink said. “She was part of a program in high school that worked with elite javelin throwers in the country, and she had a chance to travel to Finland to compete in some meets over there. She’s very rock solid in terms of competition. Big thing for her is we are going to try to get her stronger and faster. She has competed against some of the top competition.”
Streisel, a product of Tamaqua, Pa., currently boasts a personal-record mark of 160-11 (49.04) in the javelin, a distance that would rank her second on Duke’s all-time list.
For the men, redshirt sophomore Thomas Lang returns after suffering an injury that required the Royersford, Pa., native to sit out the 2012-13 season.
“He looks really good right now in training,” Linnenbrink said. “The big challenge for him is going to mentally understand that his elbow is fine, and he just has to push through that. Every time we throw at practice I say, ‘Okay, why don’t you take these next four throws hard, and get used to throwing hard again.’ We’ve agreed on a plan to get him throwing at full strength, and he’s well on that way.”
During his freshman season, Lang threw a personal-best 208-7.00 (63.59) at the Wake Forest Open and qualified for the ACC Outdoor Championship, where he placed fifth. Lang closed his freshman season with a 22nd-place finish at the NCAA First Round.
The return of Lang bolsters the Blue Devils depth in the javelin as junior Zach Robertshaw joins Lang in the event. Robertshaw, Duke’s top-performer last season, placed seventh at the 2013 conference championship with a season and personal-best throw of 189-9 (57.84).
Freshman Amarie Bremel joins Duke after competing in California, a hotbed of talented track and field athletes, where the Kingsburg native earned a fifth-place finish in the discus at the state meet in 2012.
“[Amarie] comes out of California, which is a highly competitive state in track and field," Linnenbrink said. "If you can make the finals at the California state meet, you’re probably a pretty legit Division I type athlete because it’s highly competitive.”
Bremel’s current outdoor personal-record mark of 155-11 (47.52) would place her third on Duke’s all-time performance list in the discus.
Redshirt senior Austin Gamble, Duke’s record holder in the discus with a mark of 190-6 (58.07), enters his final season as a Blue Devil. As a former linebacker on Duke’s football team, Linnenbrink views Gamble’s athleticism as a key factor to his success in the discus.
“He is a very dynamic athlete,” Linnenbrink said. “He has the ability to throw incredibly far. I’m very excited for what he’ll be able to bring to the table. He’s been training very hard the last couple of months.”
The Blue Devils look toward the experienced Gamble to once again score at the conference meet after the Weston, Fla., native placed second at the ACC Championship a year ago. Gamble’s postseason experience includes two trips to the conference championship and an appearance at the national championship that resulted in a seventh-place finish and his first All-America honor.
Boals joins Gamble as an integral member of the Duke throwing program, ranking third on Duke’s all-time list in the discus with a throw of 176-4 (53.74). Boals scored for the Blue Devils in the discus at the ACC Championship, following a throw of 166-8 (50.79), placing him seventh overall. Similar to the shot put, Boals looks to reach the finals of the NCAA Championship in the discus for 2014.
Linnenbrink emphasizes the importance of aligning the goals of each individual on the team with the approach taken towards practice, and believes this will lead to both individual and team success.
“Everybody knows what we’re working towards, so everybody in practice is focused,” Linnenbrink said. “We come in and do what we need to do, day in and day out. The more throwers we can put on the podium at conference, the more points we score for the team, and the higher up we move in the team standings. We know our role and what we need to accomplish individually, but we’re trying to accomplish these goals to help the team as well.”