CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Duke men’s cross country team will travel to Charlotte, N.C., Friday, to compete in the Royal Cross Country Challenge. Several Blue Devils enter Friday’s meet with a familiarity of the 8,000-meter course, located in McAlpine Creek Park, as the location was the site for the Footlocker High School Southeast Championships and the 2012 Southeast Regional Championship meet.
With the top six Blue Devils resting this weekend, Duke men’s head cross country coach, Norm Ogilvie, intends to use Friday’s results as a determinant of which runners will fill the final four roster spots for the NCAA Pre-Nationals meet Oct. 19.
“We’re resting our top six guys from Virginia,” Ogilvie said. “They’re getting a pass to run in Pre-Nats. They’ve clearly proven themselves over the first month and a half of the season. Everybody else is running off for the final four positions [for the Pre-Nationals roster].”
The Pre-Nationals competition allows seven runners from each school to compete in the “A” or “seeded” race. Fielding a number of nationally-ranked opponents, the Pre-National meet plays a pivotal role for many teams looking to qualify for the NCAA National Championship in November.
“[Pre-nationals] is a really crucial competition with a lot of nationally-ranked teams in the race,” Ogilvie said. “We want to make absolutely sure we have our best seven [runners]. The only fair way to do that is give everyone a chance to run for the final position. In effect, the first Duke finisher in Charlotte on Friday will get the seventh position in the ‘A’ race at Pre-Nationals.”
Along with seven runners competing in the “A” race at Pre-Nationals, an additional three runners are permitted to compete in an “open” competition, with the squad’s second, third and fourth finishers at Charlotte filling the three Pre-National “open” race roster positions.
Although determining who will compete at Pre-Nationals is a significant goal of Ogilvie’s, Duke’s head coach also believes the intra-squad competition will foster results from his runners that will translate into the second goal of the meet, a team victory.
“We just really like to have our guys race each other and try to keep it fair and competitive. It’s like any sport, you want to foster competitiveness. To me, it’s the best predictor of success. How do you compete when you have something on the line? Our athletes may be thinking I want to be in the top four on Duke’s team, and by nature of the competitiveness of the situation, that will make our whole team better. That’ll give us our best chance of winning the meet as a team. One goal is to select the best possible Pre-Nationals squad, but the other goal is to win the meet.”
A field of nine Duke runners will vie for the final four Pre-National roster positions on Friday in Charlotte.
Senior Phil Fairleigh, one of two Blue Devils to compete this weekend who participated in last season’s Pre-Nationals meet, opened his 2013 season at the Furman XC Challenge. The Cary, Ill., native ran a personal-best time of 24:14.5 and placed second on Duke’s squad for the first time in his career at Furman. Fairleigh followed his season debut with a 59th-place finish at the Virginia/Panorama Farms Invitational, covering the 8,000m distance in a time of 25:06.7, over a minute and 20 seconds faster than his time on the same course the previous year.
Freshman Stephen Shine and sophomore Blake Udland each toe the line for the Blue Devils for the fourth time this season. Shine enters the meet following a first-place finish at the Bull City Classic, a 16th-place finish at the Furman XC Challenge and a 73rd-place finish at the Virginia/Panorama Farms Invitational. A product of Briarcliff, N.Y., Shine has contributed to Duke’s scoring in two of the last three meets, placing first for the Blue Devils at the Bull City Classic and fourth on the squad at the Furman XC Challenge. Udland is coming off his second sub-25 minute finish of the season, after placing 55th at the Furman XC Challenge in a time of 24:59.9. Udland’s personal-best time of 24:44.7 was run two weeks earlier at the Furman XC Challenge.
In addition to Shine, the freshman tandem of Weston Carvalho and Aaron Liberatore will compete in their third meet of the season for the Blue Devils. Carvalho and Liberatore placed fifth and sixth, respectively, at the Bull City Classic. Carvalho ran a 5,000m time of 20:32.0, while Liberatore finished in a time of 20:47.0. At the Furman XC Challenge, Carvalho (54th) crossed the line in a time of 25:40.5 for 8,000m, while Liberatore (55th) covered the distance in 25:44.7.
The duo of juniors Nate McClafferty and Brian Schoepfer will compete for just the second time this season, following 33rd and 35th-place finishes at the Furman XC Challenge. McClafferty competed in four meets last season for Duke, including a tenth-place finish at the Three Stripe Invitational Nov. 3. Schoepfer appeared in six meets last season, including the open race at the NCAA Pre-Nationals meet.
Several Blue Devils will make their 2013 season debut this Friday, including senior Clint McKelvey and sophomore Eddie Merenda. McKelvey did not compete during the 2012 season due to injury. Merenda raced in four meets last season, with his top finish coming at the Three Stripe Invitational Nov. 3, when the Pleasant Valley, N.Y., native placed sixth in a 5,000m time of 15:39.0.
The men’s gold 8,000m race is scheduled for a 5:15 p.m. start.