The Blue Devil men made program history Wednesday night, kicking off four days of conference competition with their first automatic relay qualification to the national championships.
Duke finished ninth at the ACC Championships in Atlanta, collecting 435 points and breaking 11 program records in the process. Four Blue Devils punched their tickets to the NCAA Championships in Iowa City, Iowa, starting March 26.
Duke's most impressive performance came in the 200-yard medley relay, as the Blue Devils out-touched Louisville for the silver and broke the previous program record by nearly a second. Sophomore James Peek dove in for the freestyle anchor leg with his team in third and split an impressive 18.99 seconds to bring home second.
“We’ve been excited about the 200 medley relay all season long and we knew we had the opportunity tonight to really shine,” head coach Dan Colella said. “We couldn’t be more proud of how they executed. Each and every one of them was phenomenal. For James on the end, to go in that pack of four individuals and to run down Louisville and squeeze in there for second place, we couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Sophomore Kaz Takabayashi led off on the backstroke, sending classmate Peter Kropp into the water in fifth. Kropp finished his 50-yard breaststroke in 22.94 seconds, the fastest split in the heat by a half-second. Junior David Armstrong dove in for the butterfly with the Blue Devils in second and came into the wall third, a half-second behind the Cardinals. But Peek chased down Louisville’s Josh Quallen, passing the Cardinal relay in the final 10 yards of the race and securing Duke’s second-place podium finish.
In its first ACC Championship meet, Louisville proved to be a strong opponent for the Blue Devils and the rest of the conference this weekend, making a run for the team title with 1,178.5 points and finishing second behind N.C. State.
Kropp hoped to outrace Cardinal Thomas Dahlia in the 100- and 200-yard breaststrokes, but Dahlia claimed the conference title in both events.
Kropp broke the ACC meet record in Friday morning’s 100-yard breaststroke preliminaries with a time of 52.17 seconds. But in the evening finals, Dahlia passed Kropp in the final 25 yards, touching the wall in 52.36 seconds. The Blue Devil touched second in 52.71 seconds, but his swim was disqualified for an illegal downward butterfly kick.
Looking for redemption in Saturday’s 200-yard breaststroke, the Los Angeles native broke the Duke record in the morning preliminaries with a time of 1:55.34. Kropp shaved even more time off the record in the finals, finishing in 1:55.05 but was unable to claim victory, finishing fourth. Dahlia earned the top podium spot with a final time of 1:53.51.
Kropp was not the only one who made history, as the Blue Devils broke eight more records during the course of the meet.
Sophomores Michael Miller and Bradley Cline and freshmen Nick Bigot and Alex Pena shattered the previous record in the 800-yard freestyle relay by seven seconds, posting a time of 6:27.07 Wednesday night. They finished seventh overall and earned an NCAA provisional time standard.
“On that relay we had two freshmen and two sophomores, and all of them posted fantastic splits,” Colella said. “We loved the way everybody got it started.”
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Freshman Matt Johnson rewrote the program distance records. He split 9:16.58 at the 1,000-yard mark of the mile and finished in 15:17.88, breaking two records in one swim. In Thursday’s 500-yard freestyle, Johnson broke the Duke record in the morning preliminaries and swam two seconds faster at night, with a final time of 4:24.29.
Miller also claimed multiple records through the course of the weekend. He broke his own record in the 200-yard individual medley twice en route to his eighth-place finish in the championship final, posting a time of 1:45.26. In Friday’s 400-yard individual medley, the Houston native finished in 3:45.53 in the morning preliminaries—again breaking his own record in the event. Miller wrapped up his conference meet by winning the consolation final of the 200-yard butterfly, taking ninth overall in 1:44.77.
In addition to Wednesday night’s standout performance, Peek earned the Duke record in Thursday’s 100-yard backstroke, posting a time of 47.94 in the morning preliminaries.
The same Blue Devil quartet of Takabayashi, Kropp, Armstrong and Peek took down the program record in the longer 400-yard medley relay Friday, posting a time of 3:11.71, just a half-second off the provisional mark for the national championships.
One female swimmer competed this weekend at the Bulldog Last Chance Meet in Athens, Ga. Hoping to qualify for the women’s NCAA Championships in Greensboro, N.C., freshman Isabella Paez raced in the 200-yard butterfly Saturday. She posted a time of 1:56.92 in the morning preliminaries, besting her own program record of 1:57.39 and finishing under the provisional time standard for the national championships. With 1:56.79 marking the final time invited to the 2014 NCAA Championships, Paez will have to wait until later this week to hear if her season will continue.