DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke’s multi-event athletes are already asserting themselves as contenders on both the conference and national levels just one meet into the 2014 indoor track and field season. Duke’s track and field team had an opportunity to showcase the depth of its multi-event athletes at the Dick Taylor UNC Challenge in Chapel Hill, N.C., this past weekend, competing against North Carolina, East Carolina, UNC-Wilmington and Western Carolina. The meet featured not only a team-scoring system, but also a separate competition between Duke and North Carolina’s multi-event athletes that provided an avenue for Duke’s Karli Johonnot, Curtis Beach, Teddi Maslowski, Ian Rock, Miray Seward, Robert Rohner and Baily Murphy to display their early-season form.
“Scored competitions are definitely something that our sport needs,” Duke’s Associate Track and Field Head Coach Shawn Wilbourn said. “It’s something that track and field has gotten away from. For the sport to get back into the public’s eye, we need to do more scoring events. [The Dick Taylor UNC Challenge] really brought out the best in both teams. It brings out the idea that ‘hey, there’s something bigger here than just the individual.’ It really went well and it was a lot of fun for both coaches and athletes.”
In addition to competing for the Carolina Cup, the trophy awarded to the winning men’s and women’s team following the two-day competition, the Duke multi-event athletes also found themselves vying for a combined-events trophy, the Tobacco Road Cup. The combined scores of the top two pentathletes and the top two heptathletes from Duke and North Carolina would determine which team took home the Tobacco Road Cup.
The Blue Devils captured the Tobacco Road Cup after Johonnot and Maslowski took first and second in the women's pentathlon with a combined score of 7,902 and Beach and Rock, also capturing first and second in the men's heptathlon, combined for 10,532. En route to the win, Johonnot also set a school record point total of 4,038 for the pentathlon.
The idea for the Tobacco Road Cup competition came about from a conversation between Wilbourn and North Carolina’s assistant coach Josh Langley. While watching one of his post-collegiate multi-event athletes compete in the European Cup, a competition that pits six-person teams of multi-event athletes against one another before the score of each team is tallied to crown an eventual winner, Wilbourn envisioned setting up a similar competition between his Duke multi-event athletes and Langley’s multi-event athletes. The two were able to organize the competition as a part of the Dick Taylor UNC Challenge.
“We recruit against each other,” Wilbourn said. “At ACCs it’s typically [Langley’s] athletes or my athletes vying for the top spots. We have this rivalry with basketball and football, so why not get something together for track. I think it’ll be fun for the kids and it’ll help both of our programs in recruiting.”
An early season combined-event competition such as the Tobacco Road Cup provides Wilbourn’s multi-event athletes with an opportunity to work through each event of the heptathlon or pentathlon and identify areas of focus for future competitions leading up to the conference championship.
“It definitely helps the upper classmen get a combined-events competition out of the way, but there was extra motivation because of the competition with UNC,” Wilbourn said. “Because we do have depth, the younger multi-event athletes are able to develop and learn from the older upperclassmen. It really helps out from a competition setting, as well as a recruiting standpoint. It helps high school athletes see the focus we put on the combined events and the depth that we have, as well as understand that when they come here they’re going to have a training group with other athletes that will push them instead of going to a school where they’re the only one and they have to do it day in and day out on their own.”
Duke’s depth in the combined events is evident. Not only does the program showcase national-caliber multi-event athletes such as Beach, who won the 2012 NCAA championship in the heptathlon as well as made multiple appearances at the national championship meet, and Johonnot, who won the ACC Indoor Championship in the pentathlon as a freshman and appears poised to compete at the national level, but the team also features numerous multi-event athletes whose marks currently rank among the top 50 in the nation in the early stages of this season.
“Those are the types of athletes we have and that’s the type of program we built and are continuing to build,” Wilbourn said. “We bring in athletes that can compete on the national stage.”
Wilbourn intends to have Duke’s multi-event athletes work on specific event areas through the remainder of the regular season, leading up to the conference championship. The ACC Indoor Championship marks the next time Duke’s multi-event athletes will compete in the combined events.
“It’s all a process, just continuing to prepare for ACCs, and then hopefully the NCAAs,” Wilbourn said.