The Blue Devil underclassmen stepped up to give their four senior leaders an exciting send-off for their final meet at Taishoff Aquatic Pavilion.
In the squad’s closest meet of the season, Duke fell to South Carolina 158-136 and No. 19 Harvard 199-95 on the men’s side Saturday afternoon, but edged out both teams in the final three events on the women’s side, outscoring the Gamecocks 165-135 and the Crimson 154-146.
The team knew that the score would be tight on both sides from start to finish of the meet with the competition’s talented and deep rosters.
“We talked to them about the fact that it was going to be back and forth and that we had to be in it the entire time,” head coach Dan Colella said. “They did a phenomenal job of coming out of the gate hard.”
Duke opened with meet with a pair of wins and Taishoff pool records in the 200-yard medley relays. The Blue Devils controlled the races from the start, with both Jessie Sutherland and Kaz Takabayashi touching first on the backstroke leg.
Sophomore Ashleigh Shanley and freshman Leah Goldman extended the lead for Maddie Rusch on the anchor leg in the women's race. Touching the wall almost three-tenths of a second faster than the time posted by Virginia in 2010, Rusch brought home the win with a final time of 1:42.12.
Peter Kropp helped Duke pull ahead of the competition in the men's relay, and David Armstrong and James Peek closed out the final two legs, knocking two-tenths off of their own pool record set in October with a time of 1:29.08.
After the strong start, the Blue Devils kept their momentum through the first third of the meet, winning three individual events.
Goldman won the women’s 200-yard freestyle in 1:50.69, recording the fastest split in the final 50 yards—sprinting to the wall in 27.65 seconds—to come back from fourth at the 100-yard mark. A few events later, Sutherland earned her second Taishoff record in as many swims in the women’s 100-yard backstroke, finishing in 54.98 seconds.
Kropp, the favorite to win both of the men’s breaststroke events, was challenged in the 100-yard race. South Carolina’s Nils Wich-Glasen and Harvard’s Shane McNamara kept pace with the Blue Devil record-holder for all four lengths, but Kropp out-touched the field in 55.23 seconds.
At the diving break, the Duke women had outscored the Crimson and the Gamecocks, but the men had fallen seven points behind Harvard in the competition pool and 32 points behind both teams in the diving well with a male representative on the springboards.
Victory slipped out of reach for the Blue Devil men as the Crimson came out of the break with a podium sweep in the 200-yard backstroke. South Carolina also pulled ahead of Duke on the men’s side when Wich-Glassen broke Kropp’s pool record in the 200-yard breaststroke of 2:00.61, leading the heat to the wall with more than a body-length lead and touching in 1:58.91.
On the women’s side, the competition closed in on the Blue Devils’ lead. With only one event win since the diving break—Rusch’s 23.34-second performance in the 50-yard freestyle—Duke fell behind Harvard by one point with three events to go.
“We had a girls’ team meeting prior to the 100 fly,” Goldman said. “[Assistant] coach Dawn [Kane] said that we needed to win the next three events. For the 200 IM I knew I needed to go out strong and win, and hopefully our girls would pull through.”
Goldman left everything in the water. Taking the lead in the 200-yard individual medley with the fastest butterfly split in the heat by nearly a second, the freshman did not let up in the second half of the race, finishing in 2:03.17 for her second individual win of the meet.
Her classmate, Isabella Paez, and junior Linsay Cooper went one-two in the 100-yard butterfly, finishing in 55.38 seconds and 56.58 seconds and giving the Blue Devils the lead again heading into the final event.
Cooper, Rusch, junior Chelsea Ye and Paez clinched the meet victory for Duke in the 400-yard freestyle relay, taking second place in 3:27.30.
For seniors Clay Sanders, Tyler Toren, Stefan Knight and Katherine Plevka, Saturday was an exciting end to their final home competition.
“I cannot even explain how happy I am right now,” Plevka said. “I’m not sure the team could have done this when I was a freshman here, so it’s amazing to see that change. It’s been a long time coming. I’m so excited that it was so close and that we responded the way we did.”
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