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Duke swimming drops regular-season finale to North Carolina

Duke had high hopes for its final meet of the regular season but was not able to keep up with a pair of nationally-ranked Tar Heel squads.

After their success at the Nike Cup Invitational in November, the Blue Devils returned to Koury Natatorium in Chapel Hill Friday night, looking to upset North Carolina’s No. 5 women’s team and No. 20 men’s team on senior night. But Duke fell 175-113 on the women’s side and the men were outscored 176-90.

The Blue Devils recorded a handful of season-best times but found themselves fourth or fifth in the majority of Friday’s events with a fired up Tar Heel squad sweeping the top spots.

“We came and raced tonight,” head coach Dan Colella said. “The score doesn’t reflect it by any stretch, but we did a nice job of racing. We had some people really stand up. But I’m not disappointed with the way they performed. There are some great things that came out of tonight that are a great sign of what’s to come at ACCs.”

Duke regained some life near the midpoint of the meet, winning its only two individual events with back-to-back first place finishes in the men’s 100-yard breaststroke and women’s 200-yard butterfly.

Sophomore Peter Kropp led the heat to the wall in his signature event for the Duke men (4-6, 0-4 in the ACC), touching in 54.80 seconds. Kropp grabbed the lead as soon as he left the block and held off Tar Heel Dominic Glavich for the win.

Freshman Isabella Paez came from behind in the final 50 yards of her 200-yard butterfly for her win. Just behind Kendall Surhoff for the first half of the race, the Blue Devil kept up the pace for the final stretch, out-splitting a tired Surhoff in the final 100 yards. Paez finished in 1:59.47.

The Blue Devil women (8-2, 2-2) almost earned another come-from-behind win in the women’s 1,000-yard freestyle. Freshman Verity Abel trailed Lilianna Casso for the first 800 yards of the race but picked up the pace for the final leg, splitting under a minute for the next four laps and pulling into the lead. But she was unable to hold off Casso in the final 25 yards, finishing behind the Tar Heel in 10:07.33, just off her season-best performance from her split in the mile at the Nike Cup Invitational.

“Verity has done a great job of training this season,” Colella said. “We have done a lot of work on consistency and the back half. She’s coming off a week of sick and injury. That shows the kind of racer she is and the kind of determination she has.”

The Blue Devils earned a pair of third-place scores on the springboards, paced by sophomore Kirby Quinn on the 3-meter and freshman MaryEllen Targonski on the 1-meter. With scores of 297.82 and 285.22, respectively, both divers surpassed the NCAA Zone qualifying standards.

“Some of their girls are on the U.S. national team, so it’s really good to go against that kind of competition,” Quinn said. “To get third today was really exciting for me because I’ve been working a lot on my consistency, and I’ve been consistent on 3-meter these past two meets, so hopefully that can lead me into ACCs.”

Most of the Duke squad will now turn its attention to preparing for the conference championships starting Feb. 18 for the women and Feb. 25 for the men, but a handful of Blue Devils will head to Chapel Hill one last time for the Carolina College Invitational Feb. 7 and 8.

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