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Five Blue Devils earn All-America honors at NCAA championships

<p>The Blue Devils scored seven points at the NCAA championships this week in Atlanta after being shut out last season.</p>

The Blue Devils scored seven points at the NCAA championships this week in Atlanta after being shut out last season.

A year after being disqualified in the evening heats of the 200-yard medley relay, the Blue Devils redeemed themselves with a strong, legal race in the consolation final Friday. But the relay quartet was not alone in putting Duke on the scoreboard as freshman Evan Moretti collected All-America honors in his NCAA debut.

Duke earned a 39th-place, seven-point team finish at the four-day NCAA championships at Georgia Tech’s McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta thanks to a 14th-place finish by the short medley relay of Kaz Takabayashi, Peter Kropp, David Armstrong and James Peek and a 16th-place performance by Moretti on the three-meter springboard Friday.

“For us to score, I think it’s just another step forward for the program,” Duke head coach Dan Colella said. “It helps our student-athletes to really appreciate and understand that we’re not just talking about a dream here. It can be a reality. We can compete at the highest level, so I think it’s a great moment for the men’s team.”

The Blue Devil relay finished in a combined time of 1:25.45 to place 13th in the morning preliminaries. The squad closed the finals session with an even better time of 1:25.32 courtesy of faster evening splits from Takabayashi and Armstrong and a 19.08-second anchor leg from Peek to exactly match his morning swim.

But the quartet still dropped one spot on the scoreboard after a full-second drop by Arizona moved the Wildcats up two places from 15th in the morning. All four Blue Devils earned their first All-America honors with the top-16 finish.

“We are excited for them to make it back, improve on their performance from the morning and to score,” Colella said. “This meet is a grind…but they stood up and raced really hard in the morning and gave themselves another opportunity. And for David in particular as a senior, we are excited for him to finish up his career here at Duke as an All-American.”

Not to be outdone, Moretti gave his season-best performance on the three-meter springboard in the morning to earn a spot in the finals. With a highlight dive of a forward two-and-a-half somersault with two twists for 71.40 points in the third round—a score that allowed him to jump seven spots on the scoreboard and into the top 16—the freshman tallied 377.55 points on his six-dive list for 12th.

The Blue Devil was one of three freshmen to qualify for the finals in the event.

“Evan did really, really well in the prelims,” Duke head diving coach Nunzio Esposto said. “He was relaxed and confident, and he ended up 12th, which was really exciting. In the consolation final, he didn’t dive quite as well, but for him to be top-16, I’m very pleased with him and with his first year.”

Moretti opened the finals round with two dives topping 65 points—a forward three-and-a-half somersault for 65.10 points and a forward two-and-a-half with a twist for 67.50. But the freshman faltered on his penultimate dive, earning scores of 1.5 and 2.0 from the judges on a reverse three-and-a-half somersault tuck for 17.50 points.

The Scarsdale, N.Y., native recovered well and finished his list with his second-best dive of the evening—an inward two-and-a-half somersault tuck for 66.15 points. But his last dive was not enough to move him back up in the rankings, and he finished 16th with a total of 306.95.

“We’re incredibly proud of Evan for an amazing year,” Colella said. “The amount of development and growth he’s had is just astronomical. To do what he did at ACCs and then to come back and qualify for NCAAs, and then at his very first NCAAs to score is absolutely phenomenal.”  

Competing in his second NCAA championships as an individual athlete, Kropp was just 15 hundredths of a second away from earning a spot in the finals in the 100-yard breaststroke. The Los Angeles native finished 21st in the preliminaries with a time of 52.85 seconds.

Peek raced in his first individual events on the collegiate national stage Thursday and Saturday. The sprinter was just off his school record of 19.54 seconds in the morning heats of the 50-yard freestyle, touching in 19.61 for 28th. Peek also competed in the longer sprint, stopping the clock in 44.22 seconds for 46th in the 100-yard freestyle.

Both individual qualifiers also teamed up for the 400-yard medley relay, joined by Takabayashi and junior Michael Miller as the butterfly leg. The Blue Devils finished in a combined time of 3:09.97 for 20th.

But Duke did not escape the meet without a disqualification.

Kropp was penalized for an illegal dolphin kick off his final wall in the 200-yard breaststroke Saturday. The junior’s time of 1:56.35 would have been a season best.

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