In November of last year, junior Peter Kropp put Duke breaststroke in the national spotlight, dropping the country’s then-fastest time in the 100-yard distance at 52.02. A year later, Kropp and the Blue Devils head into the Nike Cup Invitational already boasting some of the top times this season.
The 21st-ranked Duke women and 23rd-ranked Duke men will close out their fall slate with the three-day, preliminaries-finals meet, hosted by North Carolina at the Koury Natatorium Thursday through Saturday in Chapel Hill. Preliminaries for this weekend’s meet begin at 9:30 a.m. each day, and finals will start at 5:30 p.m.
The Blue Devils knocked down 10 Taishoff Aquatic Pavilion records and two program records in their three home meets to open the season while training at their highest yardage. By backing off on yardage and resting this week, Duke is poised to post impressive times at its fastest meet of the semester.
“We are at a junction where I feel good and confident that we have a real, legitimate shot at making some NCAA cuts,” Duke head coach Dan Colella said. “Now they know they are going to swim fast. It’s just a matter of how fast. We are competing against some teams that are all swimming well this season. It’s a great opportunity to be going head-to-head with some of the nation’s top performers, and it will get them that much more ready for the championship season.”
Kropp opened the season with a 52.13-second time in his signature 100-yard breaststroke against Pittsburgh Oct. 3—once again the nation’s leading time. Despite wrapping up last season with a disqualification in the event at the ACC championships and finishing 19th at the national championships in a time of 52.76 seconds, the junior is ready to pick up where he left off at the Nike Cup Invitational last year.
“Last year was a huge breakthrough for him, but at the same time at the end of the season, he wasn’t able to fulfill all of his goals for the year,” Colella said. “From that, he has learned a lot and his confidence is much greater. He is a much more mature athlete. We will see some exciting things from him this weekend.”
The Los Angeles native is also a key member of the Blue Devils’ second-ranked 200-yard medley relay. Kropp teamed up with junior Kaz Takabayashi on the backstroke leg, senior David Armstrong on butterfly and junior James Peek the anchor freestyler to clock in at 1:26.73 Nov. 7 against William & Mary and Old Dominion. Only California has posted a faster time this season, touching the wall in 1:26.13.
“For us to be up there in that mix, just a few [tenths] of a second behind Cal and ahead of teams like Texas, N.C. State and the other top programs in the country, is enormous,” Colella said. “For a non-scholarship program to compete at that level—we couldn’t be more proud of what they have done.”
The Duke women are also among the nation’s fastest.
Sophomore Verity Abel clocked in at 16:44.99 in the 1,650-yard freestyle for the individual victory in the meet against Florida State Oct. 23—fifth-fastest in the nation and the top time in the conference. Her classmate Leah Goldman posted the ninth-best time in the 100-yard butterfly at the same meet, touching the wall in 53.77 seconds.
The Blue Devil 400-yard freestyle and 200-yard individual medley relays both garnered a national ranking of 17th at times of 3:23.33 and 1:40.62, respectively.
Duke heads into the weekend seeking to drop time from these season-bests and climb even higher in the rankings by feeding off its toughest competition so far this season. The Tar Heels sit at No. 9 on the men’s side and No. 2 on the women’s side, and N.C. State enters the meet ranked eighth and 10th. The Blue Devils will also face Navy, Yale, East Carolina and Old Dominion.
Over in the diving well, Duke’s freshmen divers will look to shine on their biggest collegiate stage to date. Mackenzie Willborn and Evan Moretti have already surpassed NCAA Zone B championship standards on both the one- and three-meter springboards and will have their first opportunity to compete on the 10-meter platform—the only event which will not be contested at Koury Natatorium. The Blue Devil divers will have the home pool advantage in the platform competition, which will be held at Taishoff Saturday.