In November, the Blue Devils made program history at the Tar Heels’ Koury Natatorium by earning the Nike Cup Invitational team title on the men’s side and nearly upsetting the host squad on the women’s side. But North Carolina will look to even the score and spoil Duke’s Senior Day Saturday in the final dual meet of the season for both squads.
The Blue Devils will host the No. 19 Tar Heel men and No. 14 women Saturday at 11 a.m. at Taishoff Aquatic Pavilion in hopes of closing the regular season with a win for the first time since the women’s squad edged Clemson 159-130 in 2012.
“I’m sure [the Tar Heels] are thinking about Nike Cup,” Duke head coach Dan Colella said. “UNC had a terrific fall of dual meets. But the fact that we went into the Nike Cup, the men to win the Nike Cup and the women to finish second to them by just a handful of points—and really that came down to the last relay—that gives us confidence going into this weekend that it is no longer this one-sided event.”
North Carolina has dominated the dual series with the Blue Devils, handing the Duke men 72 straight losses since their last win in 1939 and posting a perfect 37-0 record against the women. The Blue Devils have kept the meet interesting in recent years, recording 11 event wins in 2014 and two in 2015, but the Tar Heels still breezed past Duke in the team competition.
But with their combined 12 first-place finishes at the Nike Cup Invitational, the Blue Devils will enter Saturday’s contest with confidence that they can close the gap.
“Over the last several years, we have had a couple highlights, but I think it’s going to be more than a few highlights,” Colella said. “I think we are going to be very competitive throughout the meet.”
Senior Day will provide an added incentive for the Blue Devils to put up a fight and send 10 of their teammates into the postseason with another piece of program history.
On the women’s side, four swimmers and one diver will compete in Taishoff for the last time. Team captain Kiera Molloy, Linsay Cooper, Kathryn Eckhart, Lexi Mendes and Chelsea Ye combine for eight appearances on Duke’s all-time top 10 lists for individual events, highlighted by Molloy’s school record in the 400-yard individual medley with a time of 4:17.41. Diver Kendall McClenney is seventh all-time on the one-meter springboard with a personal-best score of 278.93 and ninth on the three-meter with 284.03 points.
The five male seniors—David Armstrong, Victor Chen, Delaney Lagrew, Kenny Ng and Ryan Prince—have been a key factor in the Blue Devils’ success this season, contributing 40 points in Duke’s 154-146 upset of then-No. 19 South Carolina and 12 of the squad’s top-five season-best times in individual events.
“This group has been an absolute joy to have as part of our program,” Colella said. “We want to send them out in style on Saturday so that they know we really care for them. When they look back at their legacy, they can feel really good that they were a big part of the changes that have occurred here at Duke.”
But North Carolina has seniors of its own who could spoil the Blue Devils’ sendoff in Taishoff.
Sprinter Logan Heck paces the Tar Heels so far this season in the 100-yard freestyle with a time of 44.07 seconds from the dual with Louisville Nov. 6-7. Heck has played a key role on all five of North Carolina’s top relays in the 2015-16 campaign.
Emma Nunn holds the top Tar Heel time in all three distance freestyle events and the 400-yard individual medley, but the Richmond, Va., native could take to the water in either the 100- or 200-yard butterfly to break Leah Goldman and Isa Paez’s undefeated streaks at home this season.
The Tar Heels will compete in their penultimate dual meet against Virginia and N.C. State Friday at 4.pm. before taking on their Tobacco Road rivals, but Colella says the short turnaround will likely not affect North Carolina’s intensity Saturday.
“They are going to be a little bit fatigued both physically and emotionally from the night before, sure, but [North Carolina head coach] Rich Deselm does a great job of preparing his teams, and they are going to be able to come back and swim hard the next morning,” Colella said. “I don’t expect anything but A-game coming from them.”