Led by senior Hunter Knight, Duke will open conference competition in Greensboro, N.C., with relays Wednesday night and race through preliminaries and finals for the next three days.
The Blue Devils expect to use the momentum of the women’s accomplishments and senior Nick McCrory’s dominance in all three diving events to carry them into the four days of competition.
“It was a great meet,” head coach Dan Colella said. “The vast majority of the women went lifetime bests, and we earned more B-standards than we ever have before. I’d like to see that happen again this week.”
Duke has entered a young team this weekend with the freshmen like Bradley Cline, James Peek and Dylan Payne making up 11 of the 16 athletes competing.
Cline has posted the Blue Devils’ season best times in the 200-yard freestyle and backstroke and will be a key factor in relays. Peek leads Duke in the sprints, holding season-best times of 20.66 seconds and 45.34 seconds in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle, respectively.
Payne adds to the Blue Devils’ strength in the breaststroke events. The freshman earned his first B-standard time in the 100-yard breaststroke at the Nike Cup in November. Payne recorded Duke’s season-best time in the 100-yard butterfly with his 49.81-second performance at the same meet.
“It’s a lot of newbies,” Colella said. “But I have all the confidence in the world that they are going to swim fast.”
The Blue Devils will lean on Knight’s experience as an All-ACC performer and NCAA competitor. The senior finished second in the 200-yard breaststroke and third in the 100-yard breaststroke at the meet last year. For his final races in the conference, Knight has ambitious goals.
“His goals are to make NCAAs and to get up on that podium,” Colella said. “I’m certain that he’s going into it with the mindset of trying to win. The breaststrokes are both incredibly strong, so it’s going to be a war. He’s trained faster and harder than a year ago. I think he’s set himself up to do some really great things.”
With Notre Dame entering the ACC this year, adding talent and depth to nearly every event, the breaststroke events will be stronger than ever. Ian Bishop of N.C. State will defend his title in the 100-breaststroke against Knight and the trio of Fighting Irish Zach Stephens, Colin Babcock and Cameron Miller.
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Virginia currently holds a six-meet winning streak at the ACC Championships, but that streak could be broken this weekend with tough competition from Notre Dame North Carolina and N.C. State. The depth and strength of all the teams competing will make for one of the fastest ACC Championships in recent years.
“At the women’s meet, it was definitely the fastest ACC Championships I’ve been a part of since I’ve been here,” Colella said. “We absolutely rivaled the Big-10. As a conference, we have definitely become a lot more competitive than the past, and we expect the same with the men.”