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Duke women's swimming bolstered by freshman's performance at ACC Championships

In her first conference championships, freshman Leah Goldman was the Blue Devils’ star performer with a podium finish and two program records.

Duke finished 10th out of 13 teams at the women’s ACC Championships in Atlanta, wrapping up competition Saturday with 478 total points. The Blue Devils broke five records throughout the course of the four-day meet at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center.

Many of Duke’s underclassmen were not intimidated by the high-caliber competition this weekend, turning in a number of personal and season-best times, but Goldman proved that she thrives under pressure.

“Leah absolutely stood out for us,” head coach Dan Colella said. “When you get here and start seeing the competition and the times that are posted, it can be intimidating. But as a freshman for her to come in and do what she did was an absolute feat. It’s a testament to the kind of athlete and competitor she is.”

In Friday’s 100-yard butterfly, Goldman posted an impressive 52.82-second finish in the morning preliminaries, breaking Lauren Weaver’s previous record. The Burlingame, Calif., native earned the Blue Devils’ only swim in the championship final of an individual event with a sixth-place seed for the evening final.

In the scoring round, Goldman was first in the water with the fastest reaction time off the blocks. Kelsi Worrell of Louisville quickly established a clear lead and Chelsea Britt of Florida State also jumped out ahead of the heat in second, but Goldman and North Carolina’s Hellen Moffitt came into the wall together at the 50-yard mark. With 25 yards left in the race, Goldman pulled ahead and made up ground on Britt. Touching the wall in 52.28 seconds, the freshman took third and broke her own record from the morning session.

“The highlight of the meet for her and for us was having her up on the podium in that 100 fly,” Colella said. “For her to come home the way she did in that last 25 and to finish third and break the school record again was quite impressive.”

Goldman will have to wait until early next week to find out if she will be invited to participate in the event at the NCAA Championships in Greensboro, N.C., starting March 19. Her time is well under the provisional time standard of 54.49 seconds but a half-second short of automatic qualification. Amber Carter of Louisiana State was the final athlete invited to the 2014 national championships with a time of 52.92 seconds, so Goldman will likely be given the opportunity to continue her rookie season.

If invited to Greensboro for the 100-yard butterfly, Goldman can swim any other event in which she has a B cut—the 100-yard freestyle, the 100-yard backstroke and the 200-yard individual medley.

The standout freshman also finished 11th in the 100-yard freestyle Saturday, posting the second-fastest time in Duke history of 49.53 seconds. In Thursday’s 200-yard individual medley, Goldman also finished 11th, with a time of 1:58.60 to tie Christine Wixted’s record in the event.

Four more program records fell over the course of the meet.

The Blue Devils opened the conference championships with a strong showing in the 800-yard freestyle relay. Freshman Isa Paez led off with a split of 1:49.24, good for a Duke record in the 200-yard freestyle. Sophomore Brittany Friese and freshmen Verity Abel and Lizzie Devitt also turned in season-best splits to give the Blue Devils a seventh-place finish and program record with a final time of 7:17.43.

Paez’s record in the 200-yard freestyle only stood for two days. Friese competed in the individual event Saturday and lowered the record by a half-second. The Newburgh, N.Y., native finished 20th with a new personal best of 1:48.85.

In Friday’s 400-yard individual medley, junior Kiera Molloy led a host of Duke swimmers to the wall in the consolation finals, breaking the program record en route to her 15th-place finish with a time of 4:17.41. Freshmen Devitt and Abel and sophomore Liza Bragg took 18th through 20th.

The fifth and final record fell Saturday night in the 200-yard butterfly. Paez won the consolation final for ninth overall, breaking her own program record from the Nike Cup Invitational in November with a time of 1:57.39.

In the diving well, freshman MaryEllen Targonski gave the Blue Devils’ highlight performance of the weekend on the platform Saturday. Targonski was the only Duke diver to reach the top-eight finals in any event, qualifying fourth in the morning’s preliminaries on the platform with a score of 255.90. In the evening finals, the Gastonia, N.C., native wrapped up her first ACC Championships with an eighth-place showing and final score of 239.55.

“To be in a conference with this kind of depth for diving and to do what she did was extremely commendable, especially as a freshman,” Colella said.

The Blue Devils will not be away from Atlanta long, as the men kick off their four-day ACC Championships Wednesday.

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