Led by seniors Christine Wixted and Lauren Weaver in the final swims of their collegiate careers, the Blue Devils will take to the water Thursday morning through Saturday evening to compete in six individual events and two relays.
The country’s top swimmers will compete in one of the fastest meets in the world, with competitors including Olympians Missy Franklin, Breeja Larson and Elizabeth Beisel.
“It can definitely be intimidating when you first walk out on the pool deck,” head coach Dan Colella said. “But watching their faces and their body language, I think they are ready to go. They are excited and hungry. They realize it is a huge accomplishment to make it here.”
Weaver was invited to compete in the 50-yard freestyle, and her senior teammate received invitations in the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke. Having secured their places in the meet, both swimmers will be allowed to compete in other individual events in which they have achieved NCAA B-standards. Weaver will add the 100-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly, and Wixted will also compete in the 200-yard individual medley.
The seniors’ best chances to score points for Duke will be in their invited events. Weaver holds the 21st-best time in the 50-yard freestyle with 22.19 seconds—the time that earned her the bronze at the ACC Championships. Wixted enters the meet 22nd in the 100-yard breaststroke and 29th in the 200-yard breaststroke with times of 1:00.01 and 2:10.10, respectively.
“The tough part is getting here,” Colella said. “If they can repeat what they did to get here, they have a very good chance of scoring and being All-Americans. I know they are capable of swimming faster than what they qualified with. After four seasons, it’s not a meet with anxiety. They are here to really try to accomplish something.”
When the Blue Devils earned their NCAA A-standard in the 200-yard medley relay, they secured automatic advancement of their four relay swimmers—Weaver, Wixted and freshmen Jessica Sutherland and Maddie Rusch. Duke is also allowed to take an additional two relay alternates, so sophomores Chelsea Ye and Kathryn Eckhart will make their first NCAA Championship roster. Because Duke qualified with the 200-yard medley relay, they will also be able to swim the 200-yard freestyle relay, in which they have a B-standard time.
As they could in the individual events, because Duke qualified with the 200-yard medley relay, they will swim the 200-yard freestyle relay as well, in which they have a B-standard time.
The opportunity for younger swimmers to experience this meet will be invaluable to the team in future seasons.
“They know what it takes to get here,” Colella said. “This is incredibly invaluable. This is what its about. Being here and experiencing this, they are here as relay swimmers, but I know they absolutely have their eyes set on individual events next year.”
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Additional Blue Devil faces on the pool deck will also change the tone of the meet for Duke’s individual swimmers.
“Having a group of six here for moral support is huge,” Colella said. “Christine and Lauren had each other last year, but there’s no question when you look around and see some of the other teams how important it is to have that support.”
Defending champion Georgia leads the field with 17 qualifying athletes, led by seniors Melanie Margalis and Shannon Vreeland. California follows closely behind them with 16 qualifiers, including Franklin.
With the Bulldogs’ strength in the sprints and relays, they have a good chance of repeating their title. They also hold the advantage of potential diving points against the Bears and fellow title-contender Florida.