Marcus Duncan has a weakness in the 400-meter run. He can admit it, too: He's still trying to get used to coming out of the starting blocks.
"I've run track for two years," the recent Wahconah Regional High School graduate said. "It's not like I have a lot of experience working at that. I've always started from a standing position, so I'm not used to that yet."
Once he's up and running, though, few can catch up the way Duncan does -- and almost nobody in the region could catch him after that.
Duncan, the All-Eagle boys track and field MVP, earned a Central-Western Mass. Division II championship in the 400 on May 31 in Fitchburg, running in a season-best 49.7 seconds. He was plenty capable in other events, though, as he finished the season atop the BerkshireEagle.com Honor Roll in the 400, the 200 (22.8) and the 800 (1:58.9). He also helped the Warriors earn a sectional championship in the 3,200 relay.
Clearly, the starting blocks are manageable.
"I raced in the Bay State Games recently -- and the people I raced remarked that if I got faster block speed, it wouldn't be much of a race," Duncan said.
Duncan's greatest success at season's end came in the 400, as he qualified for the New England championship meet in the event. His best week of the season, though, might have happened much earlier than that.
At home in a dual loss to the Spartans, Duncan held off Monument Mountain star Connor Storti by just eight-hundredths of a second. Then against Taconic later in the week, Duncan beat Taconic's Dom Nda, the 2013 All-Eagle MVP, by four-tenths of a second in the 2.
"We figured the 200 would not be his best event, but he knew what kind of shape he was in," Wahconah coach James McMahon said. "He had set a goal of beating those two guys this season.
"Especially after the win against Connor, that did a lot for his confidence going into the race with Dom. He really surprised both of them. He was able to come from behind. He actually made up quite a bit of ground against Dom, which I don't think anyone was expecting."
Duncan carried that momentum through the season and into the postseason. He easily won the 400 at the PVIAC/Berkshire Division II meet, by about a second and a half. That set the stage for his sectional championship a week later in Fitchburg.
He reached the New England meet when two runners in front of him in the 400 pulled out, but Duncan still had to run a sub-50-second 400 -- no easy task for a high schooler -- to put himself in that position.
"The biggest [accomplishment], I'd probably say, was making it to New Englands," he said. "Obviously, that was the toughest one. That took all season to know if all the hard work I put in paid off."
Physically, Duncan may not have had to do much work to stand out. His 6-foot-5 frame allows for better strides than most runners in his heats. Still, he's been working on his running since the winter, when he and his teammates -- including a fellow Central-Western Mass. champion, Wahconah miler Eric Klem -- initially set their goals for the spring.
Duncan will keep working on his starts and setting goals at the college level, as he's committed to Division I UMass Lowell. He's one of four sprinters in the 25-member freshman class for the River Hawk men, a group that includes Central-Western Mass. pole vault champion Vladimir Popusoi of Greenfield.
"It definitely motivated him, knowing he was working toward something," Klem said. "Once he made his [college] decision, it was kind of reassuring. He knew it wasn't the end of his career. He was going to keep going on and improving."
And McMahon expects to see that improvement over four years in Lowell.
"Realistically, I see no reason Marcus couldn't run a 46 or a 47 [in the 400]," the coach said. "I'd like to see what he could run in the 800. He's got a lot of potential in that event, since he doesn't have a lot of experience."
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