River product Duke set for D-II indoor nationals

When D.J. Duke graduated from River, he left as the most decorated shot putter in Ohio Valley history.

He won back-to-back state championships to end his prep career and still owns the state record with a toss of 68-ft-8 1/4.

His collegiate career, which has been impressive at the University of Ashland, could be headed down a path similar to his prep career.

Duke is embarking on his third NCAA Division II Indoor National Championship meet as the top-seeded thrower in the field.

“I’ve been to nationals before and I know I am running out of chances,” Duke said during a phone interview earlier this week. “I am ready to compete and hope for the best.”

During the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Conference Meet last month, Duke unleashed the winning toss of 59-10 1/4, which is his current collegiate personal record. That mark is the best coming into the national meet.

Duke was kind of surprised he threw that well because he’d been hit with a flu-bug during the week leading up to the conference meet and actually considered not competing.

“I lost 12 pounds that week,” Duke recalled. “Just before the bus left for the meet, I decided that I’d give it a try. I just slept a lot on the way up and I hadn’t been sick to my stomach, so I thought I could it get through it.”

Obviously, it’s a decision Duke didn’t regret.

“I think I threw 58-9 on my first throw at conference and then just throw after throw, I kept going for it,” Duke said. “Each throw, I was a little more (excited) and finally on that last throw, I really hit one.”

Duke didn’t even see his shot put land, but he did hear the roar of the crowd and the official yell mark.

“I looked and saw hands up in the air, so I knew it was a big throw,” Duke admitted. “I had fouled one that was probably well over 59-feet, so I knew if I could stay in the ring, I’d have a good chance.”

Some of the top competitors in the the GLIAC meet felt that the national champion has a good chance of coming out of that conference.

“I am going to take the same approach,” Duke said. “I treated the conference meet like the national meet, so I feel like mentally I am ready and physically I feel good.”

Now, he’s gained much of that weight back and is feeling rejuvenated as he embarks on Saturday’s competition, which is slated for 5 p.m. eastern time.

“I am confident,” Duke said. “I’ve thrown well in my practices leading up to the meet and now I just have to be ready to do it on Saturday.”

Duke knows that if he’s going to win the national championship, it’s going to take a bigger effort than it did to win the GLIAC.

“I know there are a couple of guys who can go over 60 for sure, so it’s going to take a bigger effort,” Duke said. “It’s nice to be in the hunt, but I have to go out and throw well now. I think between 60 and 61 feet will win this thing.”

Once he and his teammates return from Alabama, it’ll be right into the outdoor season. Duke sat out the 2012 campaign with a redshirt, so he’ll have the next two outdoor seasons and one remaining indoor campaign in his collegiate career.

Staskey can be reached at sstaskey@timesleader-online.com