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Olympian Leah Smith, dominant Virginia squad spoil Senior Day for Duke swimming and diving

<p>Senior Peter Kropp posted individual wins in both breaststroke events Friday, one of several standout performances for the Blue Devils against stiff competition.&nbsp;</p>

Senior Peter Kropp posted individual wins in both breaststroke events Friday, one of several standout performances for the Blue Devils against stiff competition. 

Coming off convincing wins against South Carolina and Queens University, the Blue Devils looked to continue their dual-meet winning streak—this time against a much tougher opponent in Virginia.

Although Duke got several standout performances on Senior Day, the Cavaliers were too dominant in the distance events for the Blue Devils to stay close.

Thanks to multiple first-through-fourth sweeps in distance events, Virginia knocked off Duke Friday evening at Taishoff Aquatics Pavilion. The fifth-ranked Cavalier women’s team, led by two-time Olympic medalist Leah Smith, cruised past No. 22 Duke 175-125, and the No. 13 men’s team stole tight races to pull away for a 164-135 victory.

“On paper, they were the better team and they came out the victor tonight,” Blue Devil head coach Dan Colella said. “However, as a staff we are incredibly proud of how we raced.”

Although the Duke men and women grabbed early leads by winning the 200-yard medley relays, the Cavaliers bounced back in the 200- and 1,000-yard freestyle. With Smith setting the tone by setting pool records in the 400-yard individual medley and 500- and 1,000-yard freestyle events, Virginia took the lead for good.

The men's distance events were a bit closer, but the Cavaliers still took the top four spots in the 500-yard freestyle to put the home team in a deep hole. 

“Aside from [five-time Olympic gold medalist] Katie [Ledecky], there's really nobody that's going to touch Leah [Smith],” Colella said. “[Distance] is an area that we want to strengthen and get more depth in. We happened to have some really great fall recruiting in that we've secured some great incoming freshmen and some great distance swimmers to strengthen that crew up.”

Although the Blue Devils struggled in longer races, on the other side of the pool, Duke’s diving squad was holding its own.

Freshman Jaina Gaudette topped the women’s platform diving event with a score of 251.78, followed by redshirt senior Jaimee Gundry and sophomore Mackenzie Willborn for a one-through-three sweep. Men’s platform diving had freshman Nathaniel Hernandez top the ledger with a personal-best score of 371.70—the second-highest total in Duke history. 

Willborn and senior Kirby Quinn went on to win the 3-meter diving event for Duke, and sophomore Evan Moretti topped the men’s 3-meter field with a score of 351.45.

Duke’s relay squads also found success. The kickoff race had Duke’s A squad of sophomore Maddie Hess, senior Ashleigh Shanley, freshman Alyssa Marsh and senior Maddie Rusch win the 200-yard medley relay by 0.12 seconds with a time of 1:40.23. Likewise, the Blue Devils' top men's quartet of senior Kaz Takabayashi, senior Peter Kropp, senior Michael Miller and sophomore Yusuke Legard finished at 1:27.83 for the victory.

In the 200-yard freestyle relay, Duke’s men’s A squad of Legard, senior Dylan Payne, senior Michael Seaberg and freshman Miles Williams pulled away thanks to a dominant 19.72-second split from Seaberg, putting the race away for the Blue Devils at 1:20.68. 

The women came up just short in the same event, as Marsh, Hess, junior Leah Goldman and Rusch came in second by just 0.10 seconds despite Goldman’s efforts to take back the lead in the final 25 yards.

“We won the relays—both the medleys and the 200 free for the men, won the 200 medley relay on the women—and this is what we wanted to do,” Colella said. “We wanted to stand up and really give these guys a battle this evening and I think they did that. It could've been very one-sided but they didn't allow that to happen.”

Despite losing the meet, the Blue Devils also had some standout individual performances. Kropp won both breaststroke races, barely edging out his teammate Seaberg in the 200-yard event before dominating the 100-yard breaststroke as Duke swept the top three places in the event.

On the women's side, Rusch cruised through the 50-yard freestyle, taking the top spot in the race with a facility-record time of 22.68. Legard also topped the men’s competition, winning a tight final 25 yards to just barely edge out Virginia’s Matt Lockman by 0.07 seconds with a time of 20.60.

Hess crushed the 100-yard backstroke field, finishing at 54.82 and more than a second ahead of her nearest competitor. Marsh was the last of the Blue Devils to win an individual event, notching a first-place time of 53.88 in the 100-yard butterfly.

Duke is back in action Saturday afternoon at North Carolina. Both Tar Heel squads are unranked but receiving votes, meaning the Blue Devils have a chance to do something they have never done before—knock off North Carolina on the road.  

“Everybody on this team is really looking forward to standing up and racing,” Colella said. “We have a great opportunity to do some great things next week, and do something that we haven't done in the school's history.”


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