Duke will leave everything in the pool this weekend as the squad hopes to end the season on a high note and earn All-America honors at the NCAA Championships starting Thursday.
Three Blue Devil sophomores and a junior will head to Iowa City, Iowa, to make their national championship debut after earning an automatic relay qualification with a silver medal performance at the ACC Championships.
Head coach Dan Colella believes that the squad will turn in top-16 performances and put Duke on the board.
“They are incredibly happy, excited and proud to be representing Duke,” he said. “NCAAs is a very unique meet. It really is the kind of meet where if you can repeat what you did to get there, you have a pretty good chance of scoring.”
Sophomore Peter Kropp will be the only Blue Devil competing in individual events. Kropp earned an automatic qualification to the NCAA Championships at the Nike Cup Invitational in November—breaking the Koury Natatorium, school and ACC records with a time of 52.02 seconds in the 100-yard breaststroke. Without a full taper, the Los Angeles native posted a time of 52.17 seconds in the morning preliminaries of the event at the ACC Championships but was disqualified in the evening finals for an illegal butterfly kick. Rested and ready for redemption, Kropp has his sights set on the podium.
“To be in a top-three position his first time at the meet would be great,” Colella said. “And honestly, the event is pretty wide of with the difference between first and seventh being a few tenths of a second. He’s not a rookie when it comes to this level of competition. I feel confident about how he is going to react under that kind of pressure.”
Kropp is currently seeded seventh in the event—just a half-second behind Georgia’s Nicholas Fink. He will compete in the preliminaries of his signature event Friday morning.
The sophomore will also compete in the 200-yard breaststroke Saturday. Seeded 30th with his personal best and Duke record of 1:55.05, Kropp will aim to break into the top 16 and qualify for the evening finals. Scoring in the top 16 will secure All-America honors.
“We could see a pretty significant time drop from him, and if he does that, he could be in a good position to score,” Colella said. “He definitely has more in the tank than we saw at ACCs.”
Kropp is also eligible to compete in Thursday’s 200-yard individual medley but may elect to scratch the event in order to focus on the breaststrokes.
But the Blue Devils’ postseason will not be a one-man show. After making program history at the ACC Championships with Duke’s first automatic relay qualification since the implementation of the “A” and “B” standards, sophomores Kaz Takabayashi and James Peek and junior David Armstrong will join Kropp in the 200-yard medley relay. The Blue Devils earned the 12th seed with a time of 1:25.03.
The four have the potential to lower that time and could break into the top ten, Colella said.
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