JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For the first time in school history, the Duke track and field team will send a women’s 4x400 meter relay to the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships after the quartet of juniors Lauren Hansson and Elizabeth Kerpon, redshirt sophomore Teddi Maslowski and freshman Madeline Kopp placed third in their heat at the NCAA East Preliminary Round Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla. The third-place finish served as an automatic qualifying standard, advancing the relay to the national championship in Eugene, Ore. Graduate student Juliet Bottorff also qualified for the 5,000 of the NCAA meet, two days after reaching the NCAA Championship in the 10,000.
“[Sending three individuals and a relay to nationals] shows you we’re resilient,” said Director of Track & Field Norm Ogilvie. “We had a really good day on Thursday, qualifying three individuals for nationals and a number of people ran really well to qualify for the next day. I felt like we were on top of the world. We had a pretty rough day on Friday and a rough start today. Things just weren’t going our way. In the final couple events of the evening, Juliet set us up with a fantastic 5,000. Then, the 4x4, runs a school record and every leg was fantastic. It was just an amazing run, with each leg contributing.”
Hansson, Kerpon, Maslowski and Kopp put an exclamation point on the weekend’s competition with a school record time of 3:33.09, placing the relay third in the first heat of the women’s 4x400. The time improved on the previous school best, run earlier this season, by over three seconds.
“First of all, Coach [Matt] LoPiccolo has done a great job as far as keeping the [relay team] fresh and following the training plan throughout the year,” Associate Head Coach Shawn Wilbourn said. “From the very beginning of the year, we’ve been pointing toward this spot. We want to get the 4x400 to Eugene. With that in mind, the training plan was executed to a T.”
The last event of the meet opened with Hansson leading off the relay by positioning Duke in third over the first 400 meters before passing the baton to Kopp, Duke’s school record holder in the open 400. Kopp held the position and handed the baton to Maslowski, who carried the baton in a split of 53.45. Kerpon received the baton from Maslowski and subsequently anchored the relay with a 53.47 split, crossing the line three-hundredths of a second in front of Clemson’s anchor to punch the relay’s ticket to the national championship.
“I really preach to them how the process gets us to where we want to go,” said Assistant Coach Matt LoPiccolo. “I told [Elizabeth Kerpon] that earlier tonight before the 200. Everything worked out great [tonight].”
For Wilbourn and LoPiccolo, the progress for the women’s 4x400 is evident. Last season the relay fell just short of qualifying for the national meet in the same event.
“We walked away that night [last year] and I told those girls, ‘Next year. We’ve gotten closer every year. Next year, we’re going to NCAAs,’” Wilbourn said. “The progression over the past few years, we’ve been getting better, breaking the school record each year. This is the second time this year we broke it. It’s not just one season, it’s the last couple of season’s building on this. That’s the evolution of the Duke sprint program.”
Bottorff set the tone for the Duke relay in the previous race, the women’s 5,000. After already qualifying for the national championship in the 10,000 two days earlier, Bottorff advanced to the same meet in the 5,000 with a second-place finish in her heat and a third-place finish overall, clocking a time of 15:58.78. Bottorff’s time, a personal-best for the Newark, Del., native, also ranks second on Duke’s all-time list.
“The goal [in both the 10,000 and the 5,000] was to do whatever it took to qualify,” Associate Head Coach Kevin Jermyn said. “Going in, we were hoping that [Juliet] wouldn’t have to run all out in the 10k. She went into the 5k with a little extra, but we were more prepared for the 5k to be the hardest 5k she ran all year because she was tired and the competition was good. She looked better than she looked all year, I thought, in the 5k today.”
Bottorff demonstrated her experience in competing against stout competition, positioning herself toward the front of the pack early and exhibiting her awareness of the place needed to advance to Eugene. After consistently running between 77 and 78 seconds per lap for the first 3,800 meters, Bottorff and Dartmouth’s Abby D’Agostino broke from the field, dropping the pace to approximately 75 seconds per lap over the next two laps before Bottorff closed in 69.5 seconds over the final 400 meters en route to her second-place finish.
“[Juliet] was confident going in, but she is more confident coming out,” Jermyn said. “That being said, she knows there’s going to be real good competition at NCAAs. She’s excited to know that she can be in contention to be someone who can possibly go for the title in the 10k.”
Bottorff is scheduled to compete in the fourth NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championship of her collegiate career in two weeks.
Bottorff and the 4x400 meter relay team are joined by redshirt sophomore Thomas Lang (javelin) and senior Brian Atkinson (10,000), both of whom also placed top 12 in their respective events to secure a spot in the NCAA Championship.