After four-time NCAA champion and Olympic bronze medalist Nick McCrory graduated in 2014, it looked like the Blue Devils’ dominant run in the diving well was over.
But Duke only had to wait out the 2014-15 season before another diver bound for the national championships climbed up to the boards in a blue speedo.
Freshman Evan Moretti punched his ticket to the NCAA championships with a 10th-place finish on the three-meter board at the Zone B Diving championships in Atlanta March 7-9, rounding out the squad’s five-man roster for Atlanta March 23-26. But Moretti was not alone on the scoreboard for the Blue Devils—at least one Duke diver advanced to the finals in each of the three disciplines contested during the course of the three-day meet.
"It was awesome. He had an awesome meet," Duke head diving coach Nunzio Esposto told GoDuke.com. "He did two lists. It was a cumulative score over the 12 dives and he just really stepped up to the plate and had a really good semi and a really good final."
Moretti secured seventh place in the three-meter finals with a preliminary score of 360.30, breaking into the top 10 with a 76.50-point forward two-and-a-half somersault with two twists—the highest scoring dive for all 37 competitors in the third round.
The same dive served him well in the finals. He earned 69.70 points in the third round after a 70.50-point performance on a forward two-and-a-half somersault with a single twist to move into sixth. After a 63-point back two-and-a-half somersault for his fourth dive, Moretti seemed to be in good position to finish easily in the top 10 and clinch a berth to the NCAA championships. But the freshman then faltered on his penultimate dive, earning a total score of 38.50 on a reverse two-and-a-half somersault tuck, with no individual judge giving him a score higher than a 4.5. After that subpar dive, he dropped to 10th.
Though he finished the final round with the third-lowest score of the 18-diver field with 45.90 on an inward two-and-a-half, Moretti held on to the final qualifying position and outscored Ozzie Moyer of North Carolina and Duke freshman Josh Owsiany, who finished 12th.
Moretti earned a final combined score of 708.35 for his 12 dives between preliminaries and finals, beating Owsiany's cumulative tally of 683.10.
Sophomore MaryEllen Targonski fell just short of advancing to the women’s national championships in Atlanta in Wednesday’s platform competition for the second straight year. The Gastonia, N.C., native claimed ninth with a combined preliminaries and finals score of 483.15 points—two places and 26.6 points shy of an NCAA berth.
Giving her best dive of the competition in the opening round of the preliminaries with a 63-point inward two-and-a-half somersault, Targonski seemed to be on track to secure Duke’s first NCAA championship berth for a female diver since Abby Johnston in 2011. But the field slowly chipped away at her lead and the Blue Devil found herself in 15th by the last round of the preliminaries with a five-dive score of 227.40.
Despite a better performance on the same dive list for the finals, her 255.75 points were not enough to bring her back into contention for a ticket to Atlanta.
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Targonski had elected to sit out Tuesday’s three-meter competition to focus on the platform, but finished 24th in the preliminaries of the one-meter Monday with a score of 246, outscoring teammate Kirby Quinn by 2.4 points. Freshman Mackenzie Willborn was Duke's top finisher in the event, reaching the finals and finishing 17th overall with 519.90 points.
Quinn and Willborn represented the Blue Devils on the higher springboard. Willborn reached the finals with a 12th-place overall finish—scoring a combined 576.25 points—and Quinn took 31st with a score of 255.85 for the preliminary round.
Both freshman male divers advanced to the finals of Tuesday’s one-meter competition. The pair finished barely more than 10 points apart, as Owsiany claimed 14th in 592.30 points and Moretti 16th in 581.70. Moretti wrapped up competition for the diving duo without Owsiany in the finals of the platform competition, earning 596.45 points for 14th place.
The Blue Devils finished tenth overall on the men’s side with 29 points, and the women earned 24 points for eighth.
"Overall, I was pretty pleased with how they all did," Esposto said. "A few of them missed a dive here or there. Obviously in a meet like this, you can’t really miss a dive. The competition was tough, but I’m proud of how all of them did... I know that next year we’ll have more qualifiers."
Moretti will join the automatically qualified men’s 200-yard medley relay of Kaz Takabayashi, Peter Kropp, David Armstrong and James Peek as Duke’s first NCAA championship diver since McCrory.