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Blue Devil swimming teams suffer narrow losses to William & Mary

A one-point loss might look like a disappointment, but for the women's swimming team, Saturday afternoon's meet was more about exceeding expectations than failing to meet them.

Duke succumbed to William & Mary 119-118 at the Aquatic Center on Senior Day, while the Blue Devil men were defeated by a 137-100 margin. It was the final home meet of the season for the two squads, both of which fell to 1-7.

"They were just better than we were," Duke coach Bob Thompson said. "It's not like we didn't swim well. I was very pleased with the way they competed and didn't let up at the end."

The women had a chance to win entering the day's final event, the 400-yard freestyle relay, after placing first, second and fourth in the 200 breaststroke. Needing at least a 1-3 finish to capture the meet, the Blue Devils held first and second after the first leg. By the start of the fourth and final 100, however, the Tribe's two relay teams had moved into the second and third positions, where they would finish the race. Duke's team of junior Jill Spitzfaden, sophomore Jamie Fleming, junior Leslie King and sophomore Catherine Preston took the event in 3:38.53, but it wasn't enough to put the Blue Devils over the top.

In the 200 breast, senior Kristin Gardner grabbed the lead early and never relinquished it, winning with a time of 2:25.86. Junior Heather Winter used a strong finish to move from third place to second over the final 50, while sophomore Megan Kavanaugh came in fourth.

Duke started the meet off strong, as freshman Betsy Stewart, Gardner, Fleming and freshman Susan Keeling captured the 400 medley relay in 4:01.93. The Blue Devils then nabbed the top two spots in both the 1000 and 200 free. Preston won the 1000 with a time of 10:40.37, followed by King in second, and Spitzfaden took the 200 in 1:56.99, with freshman Liz Boswell fighting her way into the runner-up position. But Duke wouldn't win again until junior Amy Armond's 5:05.94 victory in the 500 free seven events later.

The men, meanwhile, confounded Thompson's expectations in the first three events. With freestyler Marshall Preston battling the flu, the Blue Devils had to settle for second in the medley relay despite strong splits by breaststroker Mark Rotblat and backstroker David Tonini. But outstanding performances by junior Chris Wise in the 1000 free and freshman Matt Lynch in the 200 free pulled Duke back into the hunt. Wise had what Thompson called a "swim of a lifetime," clocking a winning time of 9:37.26. Lynch then swam the 200 in 1:45.58 for an upset victory.

William & Mary's depth would prove to be too much, though, as the Tribe took 10 out of the final 12 events. Sophomore Matt Jackson, who placed a surprising first in diving with a score of 171.3, and Rotblat, who captured the 200 breast in 2:08.43, were the only other individual winners for the Blue Devils.

"Right now our attention is on the ACC Championships," about a month away, said Tonini, a senior co-captain. "I hit my in-season goals today, and so did a lot of other people. It was a good competitive meet."

Tonini swam a 1:57.7 in the 200 individual medley, losing to the Tribe's Josh Osterberg by less than half a second. Junior Brian Oles took third in the event with his best time of the season.

Saturday marked the final home meet for the Blue Devils' seven seniors. Thompson said that their home pool becomes a sort of "second home" for Duke's swimmers.

"They have practices at six in the morning then again at four in the afternoon, and they're here every holiday... doing two-a-days," he said. "They just spend a great deal of time here, and it is special to be home. The pool itself becomes special, and it's great to have the Duke crowd."

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