The wait is almost over.
In the final competition of their regular season, the swim teams got a preview of the much-anticipated Atlantic Coast Conference Championships, traveling to Charlottesville on Saturday for a tri-meet at Virginia's Aquatic and Fitness Center.
The Blue Devil women (3-7, 0-4 in the conference), who will return to Charlottesville on Feb. 18 for ACCs, lost to the Cavaliers, 132-90, and to Maryland, 180-58. The men (2-10, 1-4) fell to UVa, 135-61, and to the Terrapins, 192-32; their conference meet is Feb. 25-28.
Now all that's left for Duke is to prepare for ACCs. There will be no more 6 a.m. practices as the Blue Devils begin to taper their workouts, resting muscles for the big competition. After Saturday's meet, in which eight swimmers posted season-best times, they're optimistic about their chances in Charlottesville.
"We're really, really happy with the results," senior Kevin Karpinski said. "A lot of us tried different events in order to get qualifying times for ACCs and we ended up surprising ourselves. A lot of us also did the same events we'd been doing. The facility at UVa is a good one and I think it helped us."
Duke had no individual winners in the tri-meet. But coach Bob Thompson, who had been disappointed with his team's performance at Davidson last Saturday, said he was pleased by this weekend's showing. Strong races were turned in by Jill Spitzfaden in the 500-yard freestyle, where she posted a 5:08, Chris Wise in the 200 free (1:47), an event he usually doesn't swim, and David Tonini in the 100 backstroke. Marshall Preston, who had been battling illness, came back to perform well in the 200 butterfly and medley relay.
"It's a tough situation to not be competitive but I thought the kids really got up for their races," Thompson said.
As ACCs approach the Blue Devils' focus will be on starts, turns and tempo rather than improving speed or endurance. Thompson said that several swimmers have a chance of earning all-conference honors by finishing in the top three at the ACC Meet, while even more could score points for Duke. Some of the Blue Devils credited a different team approach to lowered individual times this season.
"This year we've concentrated more on dual events and racing and preparing for meets," junior co-captain Emily Voelker said. "Overall I think we've performed better than we had been last year and are closer to the times we want to do in ACCs."
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