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Duke swimming prepares for Nike Cup Invitational

The Blue Devils will head to Chapel Hill to take on the likes of the Tar Heels and Tennessee in the Nike Cup Invitational.
The Blue Devils will head to Chapel Hill to take on the likes of the Tar Heels and Tennessee in the Nike Cup Invitational.

Duke will unveil its 12th-ranked recruiting class on a national stage at one of biggest meets of the mid-season circuit.

The Blue Devils will compete in Chapel Hill, N.C., Thursday through Saturday at the Nike Cup Invitational against the top teams in North Carolina and a talented Tennessee squad.

Duke gave its best performance of the fall semester at the Nike Cup last season, breaking two program records and earning 15 NCAA B time standards. Tough competition could push the Blue Devils to a similar result this weekend.

“We have a great set of schools to compete against,” head coach Dan Colella said. “Some fairly highly ranked programs will be there, and it will be tough to get in there, but never say never. You never know how people are preparing for this meet.”

Duke will face three ranked teams on both sides. The women will attempt to break up No. 8 Tennessee, No. 14 North Carolina and No. 20 N.C. State. On the men’s side, the Volunteers enter the meet at No. 14, the Tar Heels at No. 9 and the Wolfpack at No. 6.

The Duke men will look to finish in the top four teams and the women will try and break into the top three. A pair of sophomores hopes to give the Blue Devils a scoring edge by bringing home wins in two of the weekend’s most closely contested events.

The meet features challenging competition for sophomore Peter Kropp, who has dominated the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke this season since his 53.15-second swim at the Blue-White intrasquad meet Oct. 4, earning the team’s only NCAA B cut so far this season.

Tennessee freshman Peter John Stevens and sophomore Ross Dibblin have filled the hole in the roster left by the graduation of the Volunteers’ top breaststroker Renato Prono. The freshman’s top time in the 100-yard breaststroke this season is 54.22 seconds Nov. 14, and Dibblin finished in 2:02.59 in the 200-yard breaststroke the same day.

But Kropp’s biggest test will come from East Carolina senior Rokas Cepulis. Cepulis finished 35th in the 100-yard breaststroke in 54.06 seconds and 31st in the 200-yard breaststroke in 1:56.54 at the 2014 NCAA Championships.

“[Peter] will definitely have some great competition,” Colella said. “He is definitely excited about this week, and we can expect to see some pretty fast swimming out of him.”

On the women’s side, the battle in the 50-yard freestyle could be a highlight of the meet. Sophomore Maddie Rusch will face Tar Heel junior Hannah Lincoln, Tennessee junior Faith Johnson and Wolfpack junior Riki Bonnema. All three of the Blue Devil’s competitors turned in times of 22.1 seconds or faster last season.

Rusch recorded her career-best time in the 50-freestyle at the ACC Championships last season, touching the wall in 22.61 seconds for the second-fastest time in Duke history.

But the Duke freshmen might steal the show this weekend. Led by early season standouts Leah Goldman, Isabella Paez and Verity Abel on the women’s side and Marco Hosfeld and Alex Peña on the men’s, the class of 2018 is more excited for this weekend than any other meet so far this season.

“The freshmen have been working extremely hard this fall, and a lot of them have been extremely excited about how they have been performing in-season,” Colella said. “They are the most excited I’ve ever seen them for the Nike Cup. Everybody loves to rest a little bit, and with that rest that are physically in a place to swim fast.”

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