Sophomore Peter Kropp hopes to continue Duke’s strong breaststroke tradition and become the third Blue Devil in program history to claim the individual conference title in both the 100- and 200-yard distances this weekend.
The men’s squad will head to the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center in Atlanta for the ACC Championships, competing in all four days of morning preliminaries and evening finals starting Wednesday.
After an impressive performance at the Nike Cup Invitational in November—posting the second-fastest time in the nation, earning an automatic qualification to the national championships and shattering the Duke and conference records—Kropp is the favorite to win the 100-yard breaststroke Thursday. But the Los Angeles native hopes for more this weekend, with a chance to claim victory in the longer 200-yard breaststroke and to lead the Blue Devils to an automatic qualification to the NCAA Championships in the 200-yard medley relay.
“He’s an incredible competitor,” head coach Dan Colella said. “The more pressure, the bigger the meet, the faster he goes and the better he performs.”
Kropp is the top seed in the 100-yard breaststroke with his personal-best time of 52.02 seconds. Virginia’s Yannick Kaeser, Notre Dame’s Zachary Stevens and Louisville’s Thomas Dahlia could all give the current ACC record-holder a run for the title. All three challengers have posted season-best times within a second of Kropp’s and will likely be invited to compete in the event at the national championships.
Duke’s standout breaststroker will face an even stronger field in the 200-yard breaststroke.
Kaeser and Dahlia have posted the top two times in the conference so far this season— 1:53.79 and 1:53.83, respectively. Kropp is seeded seventh with his time of 1:56.73 from the morning preliminaries of the Nike Cup Invitational. The Blue Devil swam even faster in the evening final at the same meet, but his swim was disqualified.
“There are some absolutely great 200[-yard] breaststrokers in the conference,” Colella said. “He’s going to be right in his environment, and the competitors better watch out for him.”
If Kropp earns the win in both events, he will be the third athlete in Duke history to sweep the breaststrokes. Donald Schumacher first achieved the feat in 1960, then Eric Steinhouse claimed both titles 20 years later.
Kropp will also be a key contributor to team’s effort to qualify the 200-yard medley relay for the national championships. Posting a season-best time of 1:26.49 at the Carolina College Invitational Feb. 7, backstroker Kaz Takabayashi, Kropp, butterflier David Armstrong and freestyler James Peek are less than a second shy of the 1:25.63 automatic qualification time.
“We absolutely have the potential,” Colella said. “The time that they posted a few weeks ago is a great indication of their capabilities. There’s a great chance that they can do it.”
The Blue Devils hope to qualify more swimmers for the NCAA Championships in Iowa City, Iowa, in addition to Kropp, including sophomore Bradley Cline. Cline’s season best of 1:47.09 in the 200-yard individual medley from the Nike Cup Invitational earned him a provisional cut, and he could be considered for invitation to Iowa City with a strong performance in Thursday’s event.
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The squad will look to improve on last year’s eighth-place finish—a tall order with the addition of Louisville to the conference and the loss of champion diver Nick McCrory to graduation. The Cardinals shook up the conference at the women’s ACC Championships last week, winning five individual events and taking fourth overall, and are poised to do the same in the men’s competition.
“It seems every year the conference just gets stronger and stronger,” Colella said. “Our goal is to improve on last year’s finish and get as many guys back in the evening and scoring position as possible. We’ll see how it shakes out at the end of the meet.”