The Tobacco Road rivalry has not been kind to the Blue Devils throughout the years. The Duke men have not emerged victorious since 1939 and the women have yet to win in their 37 duals. This year, both squads will look to close the gap on the Tar Heels.
Closing out their dual meet schedule for the third consecutive year against North Carolina, the Blue Devils will head back to the Koury Natatorium Friday at 5 p.m.
The Duke squad turned in season-best performances in almost every event at the Nike Cup Invitational in Chapel Hill in November and will hope for another slew of best times the second time around.
“It’s a very fast facility, it’s the end of the dual meet season and it’s UNC,” head coach Dan Colella said. “All those ingredients will hopefully translate into fast swimming. And at this time of year we are beginning to get into our championship mode. We hope and expect to see some pretty good performances.”
Sophomore Peter Kropp recorded the nation’s second-fastest time in the 100-yard breaststroke this season at 52.02 seconds, earning an automatic qualification to the NCAA Championships in late March. Only four athletes have achieved this A-standard, including Olympian Kevin Cordes of Arizona, making the list two one-hundredths of a second behind Kropp.
Returning to his signature event and the longer 200-yard breaststroke in the same pool as his program record-shattering swim, the Blue Devil is favored to beat Tar Heels Michael McBryan, Kurt Wohlrab and David Speese.
But the Duke men (4-5, 0-3 in the ACC) will have to do more than touch first in the breaststroke events. To keep No. 20 North Carolina (4-2, 2-1) from running up the score, the Blue Devils will have to break up the top scoring positions in the Tar Heels’ deepest events—backstroke, butterfly and the distance freestyles. Duke will again forfeit the diving points without a competitor on the springboards.
Despite chipping away at North Carolina’s margin of victory for the past two years, losing by just 23 points in 2014, Duke’s women’s squad (8-1, 2-1) will face a stronger squad than in recent years. Coming off a dual meet victory against ACC powerhouse Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., the Tar Heels (5-1, 3-0) cracked the CSCAA poll’s top five for the first time this season.
Led in the diving well by last week’s ACC Female Diver of the Week, Michole Tomm, and the 26th-fastest 1,000-yard freestyler in the nation, Emma Nunn, North Carolina will prove hard to beat on the springboards and in the distance events.
The Blue Devils will have to capitalize on their strength in the butterfly and the sprints.
Sophomore Maddie Rusch could score key points for Duke in the 50- and 100-yard freestyles and will likely face Tar Heel 50-yard freestyle record-holder Hannah Lincoln. Lincoln has not broken 23 seconds yet this season; Rusch turned in her season-best performance of 22.72 seconds at the Nike Cup Invitational.
Freshman Leah Goldman—named ACC Female Swimmer of the Week following her three individual event wins against Georgia Tech Jan. 17—could be a top contender in either of the sprint freestyles, short-distance butterfly or the individual medley, depending on which events she enters.
The Blue Devils’ leading scorers and the rest of the squad will have to give their fastest performances so far this season to upset North Carolina but will not have any shortage of motivation.
“The fact that it’s UNC always inspires people to swim a little bit harder,” Colella said. “Every year we seem to be chipping away at being more competitive with them. The only way we are going to beat them is to go in with the idea that we have the opportunity to swim fast.”
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