Former River High standout D.J. Duke hasn't had the indoor track season he had envisioned.
He's been hampered with a groin injury he suffered during the first meet of the season and missed almost two months of competitive throwing.
The former two-time Division III state shot put champion, who still holds the state and state meet records, didn't need much time to reassert himself into the University of Ashland lineup.
FORMER RIVER High state champion D.J. Duke is set to compete in his second NCAA Division II?National Indoor Track Championship this weekend in Minnesota. Duke has the sixth-best qualifying mark in the shot put.
"I tried to throw some when I was hurt, but I just couldn't, so I decided to shut it down for a while," Duke said during a phone interview earlier this week. "I am feeling good now."
Duke returned to the lineup last month and immediately made an impact, posting a NCAA qualifying mark in the shot put, earning him a trip to this weekend's NCAA Division II Nationals at the University of Minnesota State Mankato.
"I am happy I made it after the injuries and am working to get back into shape," Duke said.
As Duke tried to battle through the pain, his marks were taking a hit, so he and the Eagles' coaching staff decided to shut it down. During the latter part of the 2011 outdoor season, Duke also battled a back injury, which has taken a toll, though he reports he's 100 percent healthy entering this weekend's meet.
"I've lost some weight and I'm fine now," Duke said. "I've been tapering off all of my training and lifting, and for the first time all year, I don't feel sore. I am just anxious to get to Mankato to throw."
Duke finished third in the Great Lakes Conference meet with a put of 58-ft-0 1/2. His best mark of the indoor season thus far has been 58-ft-1 3/4, which is the sixth best throw in the nation in Division II this winter.
"All-American is top eight, and I really think I can be top three for sure if I hit a good throw," Duke said.
However, Duke has struggled with his consistency some this season as he works with a new technique.
The new form and the continual honing of the craft is the reason that this weekend will be Duke's last time competing under the Ashland moniker until next indoor season.
Duke will take a redshirt this outdoor season, making the 2013 season his final year of eligibility.
Though his points won't be scored for the Eagles, Duke will compete some this spring, but he'll be unattached.
"I'm trying to work on my form a lot," Duke said. "I've refined it some, and I need to get better in it and stronger. I switched technique of the way I threw some from high school, but since the shot is 4 pounds heavier, you have to make some adjustments."
Duke's ultimate goal is the 60-foot barrier and he's been close already.
"The first meet after I came back I had a throw over 60 feet, but I couldn't stay in the ring," Duke admitted. "I've been chasing (60 feet) for two years."
Duke's got his ultimate goal of winning the national championship layed out and he believes this upcoming red-shirt season is the perfect way to set the stage to make a run at it.
"I just want to train and throw (competitively) every once in a while," Duke said. "I have to focus on improving. It's tough when you're competing every weekend."
Duke's personal best throw at the collegiate level is 59-ft-6, which came during last outdoor season in which Duke qualified for the NCAA Nationals, but didn't fare well.
"I was hurt a lot last season, too with a bad back," Duke explained. "I spent a lot of the season trying to get healthy."
At the outdoor meet, Duke's high-risk, high reward spin resulted in two fouls. During his third attempt, an official's cell phone rang as he was in his spin, causing a distraction.
"After a discussion, they decided to give me another throw, but it was like two minutes later," Duke said. "When his phone rang, it was going to be a good throw, but it threw me off, and I couldn't save it."
Duke's fourth attempt didn't result in a mark either because of another foul.
"I petioned to throw again, but it was really tough because I was upset with how things had happened," Duke said.
Just a week after getting back from Mankato, Duke will be heading to South Carolina to compete in his first outdoor meet.
Former Buckeye Trail standout Isaac Snyder will take part in the NCAA Championship Meet as well in the heptathlon field. He qualified seventh after placing second in the GLIAC meet with 5,029 points. He's a returning all-American, having placed eighth a season ago.
ROBINSON SHINES AGAIN
ST. CLAIRSVILLE junior Alyssa Robinson appears ready for the outdoor season. She won the shot put at the Arnold Classic Indoor Track Meet last weekend at Ohio State's French Fieldhouse. Robinson, who was third in the state meet last season, won with a career-best mark of 42-ft-9. Her throw ranks her second in the state this indoor season and 23rd nationally, according to Dyestat.com.
AS SPRING sports rapidly approach, several schools are changing divisions in the OHSAA this spring.
Both the Barnesville baseball and softball squads will compete in Division IV. Martins Ferry's girls track finds itself in Division III. St. Clairsville softball has dropped to Division III and Buckeye Trail's girls track teams will both compete in Division III.
Steubenville Central has moved up to Division III in girls' softball for this season.
Unfortunately, we don't know which team is in what section because, once again, the Eastern District has yet to update its website.
We would like to express our deepest condolences to the family of Amy (Sessi) Harris, who passed away suddenly at the age of 47 in Dublin. Harris was a former prep standout at St. Clairsville High School. She was a key member of the 1981 Lady Red Devils' state track championship squad.
Harris was also an avid runner, taking part in several marathons.
He was previously working with the Calgary Stampeders in the Canadian Football League.
Staskey can be reached at email@example.com