Duke's largest freshman class in recent memory got their feet wet Saturday in the team’s season opener.
The Blue Devils got an early start to the 2013-14 campaign when they competed in the second annual All-North Carolina Invitational at UNC-Greensboro against 13 North Carolina teams, including N.C. State, East Carolina and Davidson. Duke captured one relay title as well as five individual first-place finishes at the meet.
The informal meet was an opportunity to scout some of Duke’s regional opponents, senior Christine Wixted said.
“It’s a fun meet to dip our toes in competition-wise,” she said. “N.C. State is definitely one of our big rivals, so it was nice to get a preview of them.”
The women’s team of sophomore Chelsea Ye, Wixted, freshman Maddie Rusch and senior Lauren Weaver took home first place in the 200-meter medley relay, beating out the Wolfpack. On the relay's final leg, Weaver overcame a deficit and pulled ahead to secure the win for the Blue Devils.
“It felt really good anchoring [the team],” Weaver said. “I watched [my opponent] dive in and then was able to get in the touch ahead of her.”
The meet was a first taste of collegiate competition for the team’s 24 freshmen, which Weaver called the program’s “best recruiting class ever.” Rusch took first place in both the 100-meter freestyle—where she secured an invitational-record time of 51.40—and 100-meter butterfly, and freshman Dylan Payne placed third for the men in 100-meter butterfly.
With a college race under his belt, Payne said his class is excited about the program's current trajectory.
“Bringing in 24 swimmers and divers is a way to hit the reset button on the team,” he said. “We can really take the team in any direction we want. [Head coach] Dan Collela is doing a great job in setting a new tone. He’s setting the bar high for what we would like to achieve. We’re recruiting a new level of swimmer, and I think it’s exciting where Duke swimming could end up if we all put our minds to it.”
The freshmen have already added extra enthusiasm to the team, Wixted said.
“The energy’s just up exponentially,” she said. “Just having that many more bodies on the sidelines and cheering for the team makes a huge difference.”
Duke's team of Payne, senior Hunter Knight and freshmen James Peek and Joey Maginnis came in third in the men’s 200-meter medley relay.
“After training with all these people, I knew we were talented,” Payne said. “I would like to do better obviously—everyone wants to get first, but I think third is good in that now we’re hungry for it. We lost to N.C. State, and now we’ve got to beat them. Going after them is going to fuel our training sessions.”
With only a few weeks of practice under its belt, Duke had tempered its expectations heading into the weekend's comeptition. In addition, the team is at the most intense point of its weight training cycle, leaving some swimmers in less-than-ideal physical condition for competition.
“We’ve only been in the pool for a month, so it’s important to keep it in perspective," Weaver said. "We realize that we probably didn’t swim our very best.”
As the Blue Devils' young roster continues to mature, the team hopes to build on this weekend's performance and grow its reputation in the conference.
“It sends the message that we’re ready to escalate the ACC ladder,” Wixted said. “We’re an underdog, but I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people this year.”