The women’s swimming and diving team and the men’s diving team will open their championship season Wednesday in Greensboro, N.C. and conclude Saturday night.
The new scoring format this year will allow athletes competing in the bonus final at night to contribute to the team score. In the past, only the A- and B-final heats, consisting of the top 16 swimmers from preliminaries, counted towards teams' scores. The changes will likely not affect the final place of the top teams in the conference, but more opportunities to score points could allow Duke to move up the scoreboard.
“A lot of coaches have been asking for this for years,” head coach Dan Colella said. “Our argument was that if we are bringing them back and they are swimming at night, let’s have them scoring points so they feel that their swim actually means something in contributing to the team total. That heat really means something now.”
Three teams enter competition this week undefeated in the conference, including the newcomers to the league, the Fighting Irish. The Virginia women's squad—the ACC Champions for six straight years—were ranked seventh in the most recent College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) poll, leading the conference. Notre Dame checks in at No. 24, and Florida State sits just outside the top 25 teams.
The Blue Devils’ neighbors North Carolina—whose only conference loss came against Virginia in the last relay—and N.C. State remain on the CSCAA women’s poll, holding No. 9 and No. 21, respectively.
With the freshmen making up a large part of the Blue Devils’ championship roster, the experience of seniors Lauren Weaver and Christine Wixted as All-ACC performers and NCAA Championship competitors will provide a calming influence for their younger teammates.
“You can’t beat having the experience that the seniors have gathered over the years,” Colella said. “When you go to ACCs with a really young team, it’s nice to have that kind of leadership to keep them on task and not get too caught up in the hype.”
Colella has also prepared the freshmen for the grueling four days of morning and evening competition by simulating the ACC meet format with back-to-back dual meets throughout the season. This strategy has allowed the athletes to find the most effective post-race recovery routine in preparation for competition the next morning.
“We have some athletes who could potentially swim five or six times in one day,” Colella said. “It’s important to rehearse how to recover after the first day, whether it’s proper warm-down, a massage or an ice bath. It’s a learning experience to see what works best.”
Several Duke swimmers already holding NCAA “B” standards hope to advance to the national championships in mid-March. Wixted has the third-fastest time in the conference this season in the 100-yard breaststroke and the fourth-fastest in the 200-yard breaststroke. Weaver enters the meet sixth in the 50-yard freestyle with a time of 22.86 seconds, just behind teammate Maddie Rusch, who is second with a time of 22.61 seconds. That time places Rusch just behind last year’s conference champion Tiffany Oliver of Florida State. The freshman also holds the team’s top time in the 100-yard butterfly this season with her 54.43-second performance at the Nike Cup Invitational.
That Blue Devil trio, along with sophomore Chelsea Ye, has also posted the conference’s fifth-best time in the 200-yard freestyle relay with a time of 1:32.18.
“We are coming off the Cavalier Invite where we had a number of athletes go lifetime bests, and that gets the athletes going to ACCs excited,” Colella said. “Our hope is that we go in ready to compete at the highest level… We have the potential to do a lot of exciting things.”
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Additionally, conference champion Nick McCrory will defend his title on the 1- and 3-meter springboards as well as the platform in the men's diving component. Last year McCrory became the first athlete to sweep all three titles at a conference meet and became the most decorated diver in the history of the ACC. Breaking his own Taishoff Aquatic Pavilion record on the 1-meter board and his own school record on the 3-meter board during the regular season, the senior looks poised to end his collegiate career on a high note.
On the women’s side, sophomore Kendall McClenney is ranked seventh in the conference on the platform, and her freshman teammate Kirby Quinn has earned the ninth-best score on the 3-meter board this season.