Fresh from its South Florida winter training trip, Duke will return to competition Saturday against South Carolina in Columbia, S.C.
The Blue Devils have opened the Spring semester with a dual meet against the Gamecocks for each of the last five seasons. This year, South Carolina poses tough competition for Duke on both sides, but the talented Blue Devil freshmen look to lead the women’s team to its first win against the Gamecocks since 2011.
“I see the women being extremely competitive,” head coach Dan Colella said. “The score is going to go back and forth the whole meet, down to the last relay, which is always exciting.”
On the women’s side, South Carolina’s strongest events are the distance freestyles, 200-yard backstroke and 400-yard individual medley, with junior Victoria Mitchell and senior Abby Galbreath posting the team’s season top times in each.
To secure a win, the Blue Devils must capitalize on the Gamecock’s weaknesses in sprint freestyle, breaststroke and butterfly in both individual and relay events. Duke earned five NCAA “B” standard times in these events last semester—freshman Maddie Rusch’s 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly, senior Christine Wixted’s 100- and 200-yard breastrokes and senior Lauren Weaver’s 50-yard freestyle.
Led by redshirt freshman Kevin Leithold, South Carolina’s men’s team closed 2013 ranked No. 25 by College Swimming Coaches Association of America. Leithold boasts South Carolina’s top times this year in many events, including the 100- and 200-yard freestyles, 100-yard breaststroke and butterfly and 200-yard individual medley. At the Virginia Tech Invitational in November, he recorded the 11th-fastest time in the nation this season in the 100-yard breaststroke at 53.57 seconds. His teammates have posted seven other times that rank in the top 100.
“For the men, it’s an opportunity to swim a top-25 team, and they have improved considerably over the last couple years,” Colella said. “We definitely have the ability to race competitively, and we are going to go in with the attitude that we are going to give them everything they can handle.”
Duke’s strongest events on the men side will be senior Nick McCrory’s 1-meter and 3-meter diving. In December, McCrory finished second in the 3-meter competition at the USA Diving Winter National Championships behind his Olympic 10-meter synchronized diving partner, David Boudia of Purdue. With a total score of 1,434.25 after three rounds of dives, he earned a spot on the United States’ 2014 FINA World Cup team.
Without racing since November, the Blue Devils have logged thousands of yards in practice and are ready to return to competition. The swimmers trained for these dual meets in January and early February for a week after finals in Islamorada, Fla. The dedication his athletes showed in December excited Colella for the upcoming meets.
“For as long as I can remember, this was probably one of the most productive training camps I’ve been a part of,” he said. “With this whole team, the attitude has been absolutely terrific. We were extremely pleased.”
After a successful Nike Cup Invitational, Duke looks to pick up right where they left off. They will train at peak yardage for the next month, through home dual meets against conference opponents Virginia and North Carolina, before tapering for the ACC Championships at the end of February.