The Blue Devils were set to open the season two weeks ago at Florida State when Hurricane Matthew threw a wrench in their travel plans.
Now Duke will take on another ACC foe and a few other teams this weekend for its long-awaited season opener.
The Blue Devils will take on Virginia Tech, West Virginia and William and Mary at the Christiansburg Aquatic Center in Christianburg, Va., for a four-team meet hosted by the Hokies. Although Duke returns several competitors with NCAA championship experience and has added several touted recruits, the Blue Devils are outside CollegeSwimming.com's top 50 on the men's and women's sides because their first meet got cancelled.
As a result, Duke is chomping at the bit to finally swim against another team this weekend.
"Having canceled the FSU meet has [the swimmers] more hungry for this meet," Blue Devil head coach Dan Colella said. "We have the absolute opportunity to win a lot of events, and we’re going to be competitive across the board more so than ever."
Led by a pair of honorable mention All-Americans on the men's side in Peter Kropp and Kaz Takabayashi and six returning NCAA championship qualifiers on the women's side, Duke will look to take down a dangerous Virginia Tech team returning three All-Americans. The Hokies finished ahead of the Blue Devils at the ACC championship in both the men's and women's competitions, and currently sit in the top 20 of CollegeSwimming.com's power rankings.
Duke will look to show its improvement this weekend, as the Blue Devil men ended the season ranked for the first time ever and the women's squad was just outside the top 25. In addition to returning stars like juniors Leah Goldman and Isabella Paez and sophomore Maddie Hess, the women's team added a top-15 recruiting class highlighted by multiple U.S. Olympic Trials in Kylie Jordan and Alyssa Marsh.
The Duke men also added multiple competitors with trials experience in Roger Kriegl and Eric Strickland to go along with a slew of veterans hoping to anchor a program on the rise.
But the changes don't end there, as the Blue Devils replaced assistant coach Jesse Moore with former Penn State assistant Doak Finch and added first-year coaches Niko Fantakis and Melanie Klaren to give their talented team more specialized attention.
“The staff we have in place right now is without a doubt the best staff we’ve ever had,” Colella said.
Colella's team will look to get comfortable quickly against the Mountaineers and Tribe, who like Virginia Tech have shaken off the offseason rust already. West Virginia's men's squad finished second in the Big 12 last year and its women's team finished fourth, meaning the top-50 squads could push Duke in the 16 events that will be contested Friday and Saturday.
The Blue Devils knocked off William and Mary in a meet with Old Dominion last year, but the Tribe enter this weekend's event with momentum after besting Georgetown and Johns Hopkins.
With its first home meet on tap next week, Duke will look to finally make its first big splash of the year and hope that its offseason improvements pay off.
“We’re incredibly excited about the coming year. We have most of our athletes returning. Those that were at NCAAs, it’s a group that has grown considerably even in the offseason. The attitude, the culture seems to be even at a higher level than it was last year," Colella said. "Then you inject the freshman class, and we’ve got the ingredients for some really successful swimming and diving this year."
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