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Duke swimming splits with Pittsburgh in season opener

The Blue Devils headed to the airport Friday like many of their peers, but instead of relaxing during fall break, Duke took on ACC competitor Pittsburgh to open the 2014 season.

Splitting the victory with the Panthers Saturday, the Blue Devils took home the win on the women’s side 162-138 and fell short on the men’s side 170-128.

Duke opened and closed the meet in impressive form, winning both the men’s and women’s 200-yard medley relays and running away with a pair of wins in the 400-yard freestyle relay in the final event of the meet to finish the weekend on a high note.

“We had a pretty good sense that we could win both men’s relays, and we knew that our women were capable,” head coach Dan Colella said. “But the weekend before, [Pittsburgh’s women] had swum a very fast 200-medley. Our girls really did a great job to give themselves the win, so that was exciting to get the whole meet started.”

But a sweep of the relays was not enough to put Duke ahead of Pittsburgh on the men’s side. The Panthers placed three swimmers in the scoring five positions in every individual event except the 100-yard breaststroke and 50-yard freestyle.

Sophomore Peter Kropp boosted Duke’s score by recording three wins in the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke and the 200-yard individual medley. Kropp led the field from the start in both breaststroke events, finishing first by more than two seconds in the 100 yards with a time of 54.26 seconds and by more than four seconds in the 200-yard event with a final time of 2:01.13.

In his final swim of the meet, Kropp was in sixth at the 100-yard mark of the 200-yard individual medley, more than two seconds behind Pittsburgh’s Zach Lierley. But he made up almost all that ground with his breaststroke leg, splitting more than two seconds faster than the other seven swimmers in the heat and putting himself nearly even with Lierley for the final 50 yards. Bringing the freestyle home in 26.94, Kropp sealed the win in a time of 1:52.78.

Sophomore Kazumu Takabayashi added another individual win to Duke’s list in the 100-yard backstroke, finishing in 49.61 seconds. Splitting 25.36 seconds for the second 50 yards of the race, Takabayashi touched the wall less than a half-second off of his ACC Championships time from last season of 49.20 seconds.

In the closest race of the meet, sophomore James Peek led the way to the wall in the 50-yard freestyle, finishing in 20.64 seconds, just ahead of Sean Heiden in 20.68 seconds.

On the women’s side, the Blue Devils fell behind in the first four individual events, with the Panthers taking wins in the 1,000-yard and 200-yard freestyles and the 100-yard breaststroke.

But Duke made up the score deficit in a single event, sweeping first through third in the 200-yard butterfly. Freshman Isabella Paez dominated the race, taking out the first 50 yards almost a half-second ahead of sophomores Colleen Wixted and Brittany Friese. All three Blue Devils split under a minute at the 100-yard mark. Coming into the wall in 2:00.96, Paez claimed the first individual win of her collegiate career. Wixted finished in 2:04.04 for second, and Friese in 2:05.08 for third.

The Blue Devils then claimed first and second in both the 50- and 100-yard freestyle sprints. Sophomore Maddie Rusch led to the wall in both events, notching times of 23.39 and 51.58 seconds. Freshman Leah Goldman finished just behind Rusch in both events, finishing in 23.59 seconds in the 50 yards and 51.67 seconds in the 100-yard freestyle.

In the final individual event of the meet, the 200-yard individual medley, Goldman recorded the first win of her collegiate career. After jumping out to an early lead with the butterfly and backstroke legs, Goldman could not be reeled in by the rest of the field. She finished in 2:04.38, more than three seconds ahead of Pittsburgh’s Dani Des Tombe.

Freshman Verity Abel’s swims were two of the most exciting races Saturday. Taking second in both the 500-yard and 1,000-yard freestyles, Abel passed Kaleigh Ritter—the Panthers’ lone NCAA Championship qualifier last season—in the final leg of both races.

“For the first three-quarters of the 1,000, she was in third place, maybe almost two body lengths back,” Colella said. “She came from behind and ran the girl down, which was really exciting to watch. Then she did the same thing in the 500.”

Abel finished in 4:59.11 in the 500-yard freestyle and in 10:09.49 in the 1,000-yard event.

On the springboards, sophomore Kirby Quinn added to Duke’s score with a win on the three-meter board. With 277.20 points, Quinn edged out a victory against the Panther trio of Rachel Saunders, Sam Winkelmann and Meme Sharp.

“For Kirby to win that event was huge,” Colella said. “We knew going in that [Pittsburgh] had some really great divers, and she really stepped up.”

By sweeping the 100-yard butterfly, the Blue Devils sealed the victory and put a comeback out of reach for Pittsburgh. Paez and Wixted took first and second again, respectively, finishing in 55.49 and 56.71 seconds. Sophomore Linsay Cooper followed shortly after them, claiming third with a time of 57.02 seconds.

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