The Blue Devil men upset No. 19 South Carolina by a slim eight-point margin on the road last week, but their dual meet schedule only gets tougher as Duke prepares for its first quad meet since 2012 featuring two ranked opponents Saturday.
On the men’s side, No. 22 Duke will face Georgia Tech, No. 11 Indiana and No. 6 Michigan Saturday at 11 a.m. at the McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta. The Blue Devil women, sitting just outside the top 25, will take on their first ranked opponents of the season in the No. 8 Wolverines and No. 16 Hoosiers.
“What we want to do is go down and compete at the highest level. We are going to swimming some of the absolute best, and I’m sure we are going to be racing some potential NCAA champions this weekend,” Duke head coach Dan Colella said. “We always tell them, ‘You shouldn’t be nervous. You should be excited to swim the best. It should only bring out the best in you.’”
The undefeated Michigan men claimed the team win at the USA Swimming Winter Nationals in Federal Way, Wash., Dec. 3-5. The women’s squad finished second out of nine teams at the winter championships and has only one loss on its record—a 188-165 decision at the hands of then-No.4 Virginia Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.
The Wolverines converted their long-course swims into the majority of their current NCAA championship provisional cuts—29 of the men’s 34 “B” times and 18 of the women’s 21. With no relay events contested in Federal Way, both Michigan squads enter 2016 with their best relay times from their tri-meet with the Cavaliers and then-No. 20 Penn State. The Wolverine relays are just off “B” cuts and will look to fill this gap in their resume before the Big Ten championships in February, taking advantage of the opportunity to race against two of the best 200-yard medley relays in the country.
The Blue Devil team of Kaz Takabayashi, Peter Kropp, David Armstrong and James Peek won the men’s event with the 10th-fastest time in the nation at the Nike Cup Invitational in November, finishing in 1:25.62. On the women’s side, Mickayla Hinkle, Ashleigh Shanley, Leah Goldman and Maddie Rusch posted a combined time of 1:38.70 for the win at the same meet.
“We will absolutely see a challenge [in the relays] this weekend,” Colella said. “Our medley relays have been very dominant throughout the year, but Indiana and Michigan are very capable. It’s going to be really tight, and it’ll be a great first event to start off the meet.”
Indiana also competed at Winter Nationals, sending five representatives to Federal Way while the remainder of the team hosted the Hoosierland Invitational the same weekend. The small contingent combined for 14 finals appearances but Lilly King provided the highlight swims. On the second day of competition, the freshman claimed the silver medal in the 100-meter breaststroke in a time of 1:06.43. The next day she won gold at the 200-meter distance, shattering seven-time Olympic medalist Amanda Beard’s 17-18 age group record with her time of 2:24.47. Classmate Miranda Tucker finished just off the podium in both events with a fifth-place finish in the 100 meters and fourth-place in the 200 meters.
“Indiana last year struggled not having an elite-level breaststroker on the women’s side,” Colella said. “They now have two of the absolute best breaststrokers in the country.”
Not to be outdone, the Hoosier divers made a splash at the USA Diving Winter Nationals two weeks later. Redshirt sophomore Jessica Parratto teamed up with Indiana alumna Amy Cozad for the synchronized 10-meter platform competition. The pair produced a combined score of 596.04 from the morning preliminaries and evening finals for the gold medal and punched their tickets to Rio de Janeiro for the World Cup Feb. 19-24.
Parratto wrapped up her weekend with a second-place showing in the individual 10-meter event, earning another spot with first-place Cozad on the USA World Cup roster.
The Big Ten teams are favored to outscore both ACC squads, but the Blue Devils will aim to surprise the field in a few events.
“Those programs are very deep—they don’t have very many voids,” Colella said. “Is there a chance that we could upset and win a couple of events or several events? Sure. Absolutely. You never know how a team prepares for the competition and where they are in their training cycles. What we are looking for is to not back down one iota.”
But the Duke men will be focused on earning their first win against Georgia Tech since 2009 after suffering a 200-88 defeat on the road last season.
Yellow Jacket Youssef Hammoud holds the team’s season-best time in five events—the shorter freestyles and the 100-yard butterfly and backstroke—and will challenge Blue Devil juniors Peek and Takabayashi.
Peek was first to the wall in the 50- and 100-yard freestyles in the Duke’s dual against the Gamecocks and Takabayashi claimed the top spot in both the 100-yard butterfly and 100-yard backstroke.
Georgia Tech’s roster also features strong distance freestylers, led by Yuval Safra, whose season-best 500-, 1,000- and 1,650-yard times are all faster than the Blue Devils’ best all-time swims.