Junior Peter Kropp made a statement at the Nike Cup Invitational last year, dropping the fastest time in the nation in the 100-yard breaststroke at that point in the season. Saturday afternoon, his seasoning-opening performance turned heads yet again as he clocked the NCAA’s leading times in both breaststroke events.
The Blue Devil men overwhelmed Pittsburgh at Taishoff Aquatic Pavilion in the first meet of the season for both teams, winning all but two events en route to a 193-101 victory. Duke claimed the team win on the women’s side 178-115 and rewrote five pool records.
Kropp donned a knee-skin racing suit instead of the team’s usual Speedo brief after the 200-yard medley relay to see how fast he could go after six weeks of training, not intending to attract national attention. But by turning in a time of 52.13 seconds—just five one-hundredths of a second off of the automatic qualification time for the NCAA championships and eleven one-hundredths slower than his lifetime best—the Los Angeles native established the time that a host of Olympic Trials qualifiers will be chasing as the season gets underway.
“I wanted to see where I was at after the 50 [in the relay],” Kropp said. “I was 24.0, so I was pretty happy with that and thought I could do something big in the 100. This year, having NCAA experience under my belt, I’m more prepared for the season and I know what I have to do.”
The Blue Devils’ only male individual qualifier for last year’s national championships broke his own pool record set at the Blue and White intra-squad meet last year. Kropp posted another decisive win in the 200-yard distance as the only swimmer in the heat to break the two-minute barrier—and the first swimmer in the nation to do so this season—stopping the clock at 1:59.01.
Duke opened the meet with dominant performances in the 200-yard medley relay, taking first and second place on the women’s side and sweeping the top three spots on the men’s side. Both “A” relays touched the wall in pool-record-setting time.
In her debut swim in Taishoff, freshman Mickayla Hinkle led off the women’s medley relay with a split of 25.48 seconds on the backstroke leg. Junior Ashleigh Shanley and sophomore Leah Goldman extended the lead to nearly eight-tenths of a second on the breaststroke and butterfly, and junior Maddie Rusch brought home the freestyle leg for a final time of 1:41.27. The Blue Devil “B” team of Jessica Sutherland, Alyssa Arwood, Isa Paez and Maddie Hess finished in a combined time of 1:42.00—nearly three seconds ahead of the Panthers’ top relay.
On the men’s side, Kaz Takabayashi, Kropp, David Armstrong and James Peek—the same quartet who earned an automatic relay qualification for the national championships—led their heat by nearly four seconds, finishing in 1:27.75. Bradley Cline, Dylan Payne, Kenny Ng and Michael Seaberg took second with a time of 1:31.51.
“I knew we could be quick, but I didn’t expect us to be that fast,” Duke head coach Dan Colella said. “It’s a great group of returning athletes and a phenomenal group of freshmen. I think everybody was jazzed for the first meet of the season, and that was exciting to watch.”
Goldman added another pool record to her resume in the 200-yard individual medley. Taking out the first 50 yards of butterfly nearly a second and a half faster than the rest of the heat, the Burlingame, Calif., native continued to build on her lead through the remaining three strokes. Goldman finished in 2:02.00 to break a 37-year-old pool record set by Renee Laravie of Florida.
But Duke’s returning NCAA competitors did not outshine the Class of 2019.
Hinkle turned in her second pool record of the day in the 100-yard backstroke less than half an hour after the medley relay. With a 50-yard split of 26.56 seconds, the freshman opened up a half-second lead against teammate and former pool record-holder Jessica Sutherland. Splitting 27.99 seconds for the last 50 yards, the Woodbury, Minn., native finished in a final time of 54.55 seconds. Sutherland claimed second in 55.48 and Hess third in 55.93 seconds.
Hinkle led a trio of Blue Devils to the wall for another sweep in the 200-yard backstroke to earn her second individual win of the meet. The freshman finished in 2:00.29, followed by junior Liza Bragg in 2:01.94 and sophomore Maria Sheridan in 2:05.32.
Freshman Riley Hickman, recruited for his talent in the sprints and middle distance events, stepped up on the blocks for the 500- and 1,000-yard freestyles. The Davis, Calif., native tapped the wall first in both events, turning in times of 4:39.28 and 9:26.92, respectively.
The men’s squad was also bolstered by performances by Evan Moretti, Josh Owsiany and Lee Christensen on the springboards. The Blue Devils competed through most of last season without a male representative on the springboard, forfeiting points in two events at each meet. The trio of rookie divers added more than 20 points to the team total, highlighted by Moretti’s win on the one-meter board.
“You never know with freshmen in their first meet,” Colella said. “Sometimes the jitters get to them. But they stood up and raced today.”
The Blue Devils tallied 15 event wins on the men’s side, dropping just the 200-yard freestyle and the 3-meter springboard, and 12 on the women’s side. The men had fallen to the Panthers 170-128 last season but exceeded expectations in Saturday’s rematch.
“We have been talking a lot in the last several weeks about the things we need to be doing better,” Colella said. “And we have been doing that for the last six weeks. They have worked hard in the pool, but it’s the little things that make a difference. It’s the first meet of the season in a long season but we told them ‘Enjoy this feeling. Make sure that we sustain this throughout the season.’”