After struggling in their last performance, the Blue Devils will wrap up dual meets for the fall semester with a double-header on the road this weekend and hope to stay sharp through two days of competition.
The swimmers will face William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., Friday at 5 p.m. The divers will join them in Norfolk, Va., Saturday to take on Old Dominion and St. Andrews in a double dual at 11 a.m.
Two weeks ago, the Blue Devils took on UNC-Wilmington and Virginia Tech in back-to-back dual meets but lacked energy and confidence in their first races against the Hokies. Duke will focus on keeping up its enthusiasm for both meets this weekend to prepare for the multiple-day invitational meets ahead on the schedule.
“We have to stand up and be tough, more mentally and physically,” head coach Dan Colella said. “Against Virginia Tech we were a little bit flat coming off Wilmington, so here is an opportunity to learn and be a little bit sharper on Saturday.”
On the women’s side, Duke stacks up well against the Tribe, with faster season-best times in every individual event except the 100-yard freestyle. At the CAA Pod Meet last weekend, William and Mary’s Jaimie Miller recorded a time of 51.58 seconds—the same time the Blue Devils’ leading sprinter Maddie Rusch posted in her sweep of the 50- and 100-yard freestyles at Pittsburgh in mid-October.
Rusch holds the faster time on the season in the 50-yard event, touching the wall in 23.39 seconds against the Panthers; Miller recorded her season best of 23.71 seconds against Towson. The pair will face off in both events Friday for what may be the closest races of the meet.
“They will have some real highlights and will contest our girls,” Colella said. “We will need to be ready to race.”
The Tribe also boasts strong sprinters on the men’s side. Junior Billy Russell holds the squad’s season-best times in the 50-, 100- and 200-yard freestyles. He will give Duke’s James Peek a tight race in the 50-yard race, and Peek might need to post a new season-best of less than 45.91 seconds in the 100-yard sprint to come away with a win. Two weeks ago, William and Mary's star sprinter posted a 45.46-second swim against Mary Washington.
Sophomore Bradley Cline will challenge Russell in the 200-yard freestyle, hoping to improve on his season-best time of 1:41.06 from the Virginia Tech meet. Russell posted his top time this season of 1:41.00 against Mary Washington the same weekend.
Sophomore Kaz Takabayashi will also have his hands full in the 100-yard backstroke and 100-yard butterfly for the Blue Devils. Takabayashi posted times of 49.61 seconds in the backstroke and 49.41 seconds in the butterfly at the Pittsburgh meet. The Tribe’s Will Manion earned his season best of 48.86 seconds in the 100-yard backstroke at the CAA Pod Meet and Justin Barden touched the wall in 49.83 seconds in the 100-yard butterfly against Towson.
“They have always been very competitive with us in the past,” Colella said. “Last year it was a battle, and it will be again this year. They have guys who are capable of winning events if we are not ready.”
Friday’s meet will feature a sprint format the Blue Devils have not seen yet this season. The 50-yard races of each stroke and the 100-yard individual medley will be contested rather than the 200-yard events, and both sprint relays will bookend the meet.
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In Saturday’s meet, Old Dominion senior Rachel Eckert looks to give the Duke squad the most trouble. At the Virginia Tech Challenge in October, Eckert took second on the 1-meter springboard and fourth on the 3-meter out of 17 divers competing—including the Hokie squad that swept the Blue Devil trio of Kirby Quinn, Kendall McClenney and Jaimee Gundry on both boards Oct. 26.
Duke will take on St. Andrews at the same time in the meet’s double-dual format to cap off a busy weekend.
At the All-North Carolina Invitational in early October, the Knights finished 12th on the women’s side, fifth among Division II and III schools. The men finished third among Division II and III schools, seventh overall.
Heading into the end of the semester, the Blue Devils will look to build some much-needed confidence with several underclassmen hoping to post the top times of their young careers.