Duke qualified its first women’s relay for the NCAA Championships last season. Now the Blue Devils are one win away from making program history again.
Competing in Atlanta in their second road meet of the season, Duke will take on Georgia Tech Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center—site of the 1996 Olympics.
Duke’s women’s team (7-1, 1-1 in the ACC) edged out Harvard and South Carolina for two dual meet victories Jan. 10, earning seven wins in a season for the first time since the 1974-75 season. A win Saturday could give the Blue Devils their first eight-win season in program history.
“It speaks to the fact that the team has been improving year-in and year-out,” head coach Dan Colella said. “Having a 7-1 record, there’s no question that it helps to build confidence.”
Duke has come a long way in the past two seasons. The team ended the 2012-13 campaign 2-6, but improved to 4-4 the next year with the addition of eight athletes in the Class of 2017. The squad will head into the 2015 postseason with a winning record for the first time since 2009-10.
Led by Maddie Rusch and Jessie Sutherland, the current sophomore class made an immediate impact in their first postseason as Blue Devils. Rusch, the team’s standout sprinter, and Sutherland, program record-holder in the 100-yard backstroke, bookended the Blue Devils’ record-setting 200-yard medley relay at the ACC Championships that received the program’s first automatic qualification for the NCAA Championship.
The squad welcomed an equally strong freshman class this year, as Isabella Paez and Leah Goldman have been consistent top-scorers for Duke. Paez set a program record in the 200-yard butterfly and leads an impressive roster of underclassmen in the 100-yard event. Goldman has bolstered the sprint group and holds the team’s top time in the 200-yard individual medley this season.
In December 2013, Duke athletics announced it would expand the number of available scholarships for several women's sports—including swimming and diving—to the maximum number permitted by the NCAA, which will only continue to bolster the program.
“What’s so incredibly exciting with the athletic department’s commitment to adding a full complement of scholarships and after what we did recruiting this fall, is that it’s going to continue to evolve,” Colella said. “We are going to continue to get better and better every year.”
On paper, the meet stacks up in favor of the Blue Devils. Duke has the opportunity to win the majority of the individual events and sweep the relays, but the Yellow Jackets should not be underestimated.
Georgia Tech (6-7, 2-2) will look to capitalize on its strength in the breaststroke events in Saturday’s contest. Darelle Cowley posted season-best times in the 100- and 200-yard events at the Georgia Tech Invitational in November, finishing in 1:02.17 and 2:16.30, respectively.
Sophomore Ashleigh Shanley holds Duke’s season-best times in both events, touching the wall in 1:04.64 and 2:19.29 at the Nike Cup Invitational in November.
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Cowley’s breaststroke leg in the 400-yard medley relay will help the Yellow Jackets keep pace with the Duke squad.
On the men’s side, Duke (4-4, 0-2) will begin the meet in a deep hole. Forfeiting more than 30 points without a representative on the springboards, the Blue Devils will look to take individual wins in the breaststroke and prevent Georgia Tech from sweeping its strongest events.
After losses to Georgia and North Carolina, the Yellow Jackets (7-3, 2-1) sit outside the top 25 in the CSCAA Coaches poll released in early December, but defeated Cincinnati by more than 100 points to close 2014. Georgia Tech hopes to use another win against Duke to re-enter the top 25.
Led by sprinter Andrew Kosic, Georgia Tech will be difficult to out-touch in the sprints. At the Georgia Tech Invitational, Kosic posted season-best times of 19.44 seconds in the 50-yard freestyle and 42.74 seconds in the 100-yard freestyle—more than a second faster than any Blue Devil time this season in both events.
Duke has a chance to bring home two individual wins with sophomore Peter Kropp’s breaststroke events. Kropp’s 52.02-second performance in the 100-yard breastroke at the Nike Cup Invitational was the second-fastest time in the nation so far this season. The Yellow Jackets’ top breaststroker, Richard Lehner, touched the wall in 54.97 seconds at the Georgia Tech Invitational.
“Their men’s team has been swimming really well thus far,” Colella said. “I think there are some other events that we have the ability to win. We have to step up and swim really well, as always.”