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North Carolina outpaces Duke swimming on Senior Day

<p>The Blue Devils kept it close, but the Tar Heels closed out the meet Saturday to spoil Duke's Senior Day.</p>

The Blue Devils kept it close, but the Tar Heels closed out the meet Saturday to spoil Duke's Senior Day.

Duke reset a slew of pool records Saturday on Senior Day, but it was not enough to upset its arch-rival.

The Blue Devils came up short against North Carolina in both the men’s and women’s meets at Taishoff Aquatics Pavilion but provided their home fans with one of their best performances of the campaign. Duke’s men fell to the No. 19 Tar Heels 156-142, and the No. 16 North Carolina women downed the Blue Devils 179-121.

After years of uncompetitive, one-sided dual meets, the Blue Devils finally gave the Tar Heels a run for their money.

“All season long, one of the things that we’ve really, really harped on is, regardless of the meet, we need to swim it like it’s our last meet of the season,” Colella said. “I think that’s something that they’ve done a phenomenal job of all year, really standing up and competing really, really hard. I think they’ve realized that they are capable of doing things that they didn’t think they could do.”

Colella’s team started off the meet with a bang. The 200-yard medley relay team kicked things off as Mickayla Hinkle, Ashleigh Shanley, Leah Goldman and Maddie Rusch edged out North Carolina's squad of Hellen Moffitt, Annie Goessling, Sarah Koucheki and Caroline Baldwin by less than three tenths of a second.

The men followed with another strong effort in their medley relay. After the initially-victorious A-squad was disqualified, the B-team of Joey Maginnis, Dylan Payne, Michael Miller and Adriaan Venter ended up getting the win by just two-tenths of a second, touching the wall in 1:29.03.

“Duke is incredibly improved,” North Carolina head coach Rich DeSelm said. “Dan and the coaches have done a great job. There’s nothing I can say other than, they brought everything they had, and it was nip-and-tuck the whole way.”

The Blue Devil distance swimmers came out on fire as well. Sophomore Verity Abel swept the women’s 500- and 1,000-yard freestyle, clocking a season-best time of 4:52.05 in the 500 and a 10:00.47 in the 1000. Abel trailed North Carolina senior Emma Nunn for much of the race in the 500 but used an impressive second-half spurt to pull out the victory.

“I thought in the first half of the race, 'Man, I’m so tired after this 1,000, and then I remembered the score, and I knew it was so close, and I really just wanted to be a part of the contribution to our team’s points,” Abel said. “The more I picked it up, the more momentum I got from it, and I just got really excited and pretty much just went all out until the end. It was really exciting for me in the water, too, because I could see myself catching up to her and eventually overtaking her, which was just so thrilling.”

Sophomore Matt Johnson dominated the men’s 1,000 freestyle, breaking his own team record in the process. Johnson checked in at 9:08.00, demolishing the previous program mark he set last season of 9:16.58. Johnson was also the top Duke finisher in the 500 free, finishing third in 4:32.16.

“This whole week has been a pretty high-volume week. I had some good sets to figure out where I was, figure out how I’m feeling, and all my sets went really well this week. [Assistant coach] Jesse [Moore] took note, and he asked me last night if I wanted to suit up and go for the record,” Johnson said. “When I got in this morning, I knew I was going to suit up and go for it. It felt great.”

Junior Peter Kropp put on a show in the breaststroke events. In the men’s 100-yard breast─in which he sports the fourth-fastest time in the country at 52.13─Kropp led a Duke sweep, finishing first in 54.16 ahead of teammates Payne and Mike Seaberg. He also won the 200-yard breast in 2:01.64, edging out North Carolina's Michael McBryan by a little more than two-tenths of a second.

Rusch earned an individual victory in the women’s 50-yard freestyle. Already ranked 12th in the country─likely good enough for a berth at this March’s NCAA Championships─she clocked a 22.80 to break the Taishoff pool record of 22.99 set by Clemson’s Meg Anderson in 2012.

“I’m really excited because it’s the first time I’ve [swam] under 23 in a dual meet ever, and to get the pool record on top of it was great,” Rusch said.

Peek edged out North Carolina's Sam Lewis to win the men’s 50-yard freestyle in 20.23 and supplied a blazing 19.33 anchor split on Duke’s 200-yard freestyle relay as the Blue Devils came from behind to win in 1:19.70, demolishing Clemson’s pool record of 1:21.08 from 2012.

Freshman Mackenzie Willborn scored 295.28 in the diving well for the top spot in the one-meter event. Willborn was also the top Blue Devil finisher from three meters, finishing second with a score of 338.85.

Senior David Armstrong picked up two second-place finishes in tight races Saturday, touching the wall in 1:39.55 in the 200-yard freestyle and 47.47 in the 100-yard butterfly. Armstrong was competing in his final dual meet, along with classmates Victor Chen, Linsay Cooper, Kathryn Eckhart, Delaney Lagrew, Kendall McClenney, Lexi Mendes, Kiera Molloy, Kenny Ng, Ryan Prince, and Chelsea Ye.

“It’s surreal. It’s been a long journey. I transferred, so I was just grateful to be here,” Armstrong said. “This year, I think we’ve taken the next step for our program.”

Moffitt was the individual star for the Tar Heels, winning all three of her individual events, including a 100-yard butterfly time of 53.29 that broke the Taishoff pool record. Duke claimed second in all three events, with freshman Maddie Hess the runner-up in the backstroke events and sophomore Leah Goldman next to touch the wall in the 100-yard butterfly.

Duke’s women came up on the wrong end of a fantastic finish in the women’s 200-yard freestyle relay. Hess, Goldman, Ye and Rusch touched in 1:31.53, just two one-hundredths behind North Carolina. Both times blew away the pool record of 1:33.57, set by Duke in 2014.

The Blue Devils will return to action next weekend for the UNC College Cup in Chapel Hill, and select Blue Devils will compete at the ACC Championships in Greensboro, N.C., next month. The women’s meet will be held Feb. 17-20, and the men’s will take place Feb. 24-28.

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