DURHAM, N.C. – The Duke women’s track and field team welcomes ten student-athletes to the 2018-19 season as the Blue Devils received commitments from Dana Baker, Rylee Bowen, Monica Hebner, Ellen Hirsberg, Nikki Merritt, Elizabeth Reneau, Clara Savchik, Kelcie Simmons, Natalie Simmons and Issy Wakefield.
Here is a closer look at the future Blue Devils:
Baker, a native of Olathe, Kan., is the two-time defending champion Kansas 6A State Champion in the javelin throw. Baker has a personal-best throw of 171-5 and finished in second place at the 2017 New Balance Outdoor Nationals in the event. She was the top high school performer at American JavFest this summer and is the nation’s top ranked senior.
“Our program is excited to welcome Dana,” said associate head coach B.J. Linnenbrink. “She bolsters our talented throws group and continues our tradition of highly competitive javelin throwers.”
Rylee Bowen hails from Sonoma, Calif., and is finishing up her senior season racing for Sonoma Academy. Bowen closed her prep cross country career as the three-time California state champion. She has personal-best time of 4:43.92 in the 1,600m, 10:13.20 in the 3,200m and 6:41.26 in the 2,000m steeplechase.
“Rylee brings a great amount of energy and enthusiasm to the program,” said women’s head cross country coach and assistant track and field coach Rhonda Riley. “Rylee is a very talented and driven athlete who is determined to make a name for herself at Duke. She is an excellent steeplechaser and will have a bright future in this event at Duke.”
Monica Hebner comes to Durham from Allendale, N.J., and attends Northern Highlands High School. Hebner finished in first place at the 2017 NJSIAAA cross country Meet of Champions to finish her senior cross country season. She has personal-best times of 10:38.39 in the 3,200m and 16:53.91 in the 5K.
“Monica is one of the most determined athletes I have recruited,” Riley said. “When she has her mind set on a goal, I have no doubt she will achieve it. Monica is very talented and will be a very strong runner in this program. We are excited to have Monica join the team.”
Ellen Hirsberg, a product of Las Vegas, Nev., and competes for The Meadows High School. Hirsberg has excelled in the 400m and 800m, clocking times of 58.91 in the 400m and 2:17.36 in the 800m.
“Ellen is fairly new to running and has what it takes to be very successful at Duke,” said Riley. “I love Ellen’s desire to be the best and to work hard at achieving her goals. Ellen will be a great middle distance runner and I’m looking forward to seeing what she can do as a Blue Devil.”
Nikki Merritt, a native of Rancho Santa Margarita, California, is finishing up a stellar prep career at Santa Margarita High School. After an outstanding junior season Merritt was named the 2017 Girls Orange County Varsity Track Athlete of the Year. She raced to the silver medal at the CIF-SS finals in both the 100m and the 300m hurdles. She was the bronze medalist at the CIF California state championship meet in the 4x100m relay and finished in fifth place in the 4x400m relay. Merritt has clocked personal-bests of 14.31 in the 100m hurdles, 42.50 in the 300m hurdles, 12.06 in the 100m and 24.62 in the 200m.
“I’m so excited about Nikki, she is one of the top hurdlers and sprinters in California and she just keeps getting better,” said associate head coach Shawn Wilbourn. “She just ran 42.50 in the 300m hurdles at Arcadia which is the sixth-fastest in the U.S. right now. She is going to bring depth to the hurdle crew as well as bolster our already strong relays.”
Elizabeth Reneau is from Argyle, Tex., and attends Argyle Liberty Christian High School. Reneau has consistently been excellent in cross country throughout her prep career, winning the Texas state championship four times. She has personal-best times of 4:56.83 in the 1,600m, 10:34.05 in the 3,200m and 16:14.90 in the three-mile.
“Elizabeth is someone who instantly connected with the team on her visit,” Riley said. “She is humble, hard-working and will thrive in a team environment. Elizabeth is a team player who will be a great addition to this squad.”
Clara Savchik, a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., is finishing up her high school career at North Alleghany High School. Savchik has personal-best time of 10:18 in the two-mile race and 17:46 in the 5K.
“I’m excited to see what Clara can do in college,” said Riley. “She is someone who has a lot of grit and toughness. I love how balanced Clara is and her passion for excelling in everything that she does.”
“I am extremely excited for the twins, Kelcie and Natalie, to join the Blue Devil family,” said assistant coach Mark Mueller. “They are both team-first girls and, like all our incoming class, phenomenal student-athletes and people.”
Hailing from Leonard, Texas, Kelcie is finishing up one of the top prep sprint campaigns in the country for Leonard High School. Simmons is a six time Texas 3A state champion in sprint relays as well as a silver medalist in the 100m and long jump. She has excelled on the state, national, and international stage. She was the 2017 Caribbean Scholastic Invitational champion in the 100m and took the bronze medal in the 200m. At the 2016 USATF National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships, Simmons claimed the silver medal in the 100m and 200m. Kelcie, teaming with sister and fellow Blue Devil commit Natalie Simmons, won the gold medal in the 4x100m relay at the 2017 USATF Hershey National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships. Kelcie has strong personal-bests in a broad spectrum of events, clocking a time of 7.52 in the 60m, 11.60 (11.50 wind aided) in the 100m, 23.84 in the outdoor 200m, and 24.13 in the indoor 200m. She is also accomplished in the jumps where Kelcie has leapt 18-10.25 (5.75m) in the long jump and cleared 5-5 (1.65m) in the high jump.
“When you just look at the numbers, Kelcie is the fastest sprint recruit we have ever signed,” said Mueller. “But the most exciting thing about her is that she has a ton of experience and is a steely competitor who knows how to stay composed on the big stage. We expect her to make an immediate contribution in the sprints, jumps, and relays.”
Natalie Simmons is from Leonard, Texas, and attends Leonard High School. Like her sister, Natalie has been a dominant force at the Texas State meet. She is an eight time Texas 3A state champion, winning six times in the sprint relays, once in the long jump and once in the triple jump. She has also added a silver medal at the Texas 3A state championship in both the long jump and triple jump. Twice a national champion, Natalie won the gold medal in the 4x400m relay at the 2016 USATF National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships and then followed the next year with a gold medal in the 4x100m relay at the 2017 USATF Hershey National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships, combining with her sister Kelcie Simmons. Simmons has a personal-best of 24.43 in the 200m, 19-3.25 (5.87m) in the long jump and 38-11.75 (11.88m) in the triple jump.
“Natalie is also a fierce competitor,” Mueller said. “To be an eight-time Texas state champ considering her yearlong knee injury her sophomore year is reallyD remarkable and shows both her talent and determination. Last year was a truly incredible comeback season, which ended with more state titles and a national championship on the 4x100 relay. Natalie will be an immediate boost to our jumps squad in the long and triple jump and a major addition to our strong sprint relays.”
Wakefield, a product of Devon, England, is a top ranked heptathlete. She was the English Schools Champion in the U17 Hurdles and the U17 Heptathlon. Wakefield scored a personal-best 4,996 points in the heptathlon to finish in second place at the England Athletics U20 and Senior Combined Events Championship in 2016.
“Issy has proven herself to be one of the best heptahtletes and hurdlers in the U.K.,” Wilbourn said. “With her commitment to both academics and athletics, she will be a valuable contributor to our program.”