Nine program records fell during the course of four days, but the competition proved too fierce for the Duke men at the ACC championship.
Eight teams entered Georgia Tech’s McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta either ranked or receiving votes, including the Blue Devils, who finished eighth Monday through Thursday after falling just outside the top 25 prior to the week of racing. Despite a full month off—many of Duke's swimmers last raced Jan. 28 against North Carolina—the Blue Devils were not able to improve upon last year’s scoring totals, dropping from 643 to 607 total points.
That decrease is even more surprising given the strength of the divers, who contributed 34 more points than they did last year. Duke finished 93 points shy of seventh-place finishers North Carolina, whom the Blue Devils topped 173-126 in January.
"We are always striving to be a little bit higher within the ACC, but this conference has just gone to another level and is incredibly competitive," Duke head coach Dan Colella told GoDuke.com. "Our seniors, we’re going to miss them. They’ve been a big part of this for the last four years and instrumental in helping us accomplish what we’ve done.”
Most of the week’s highlights revolved around a core group of senior swimmers, including Peter Kropp. The breaststroke specialist set a conference record in the 100-yard breaststroke during the preliminary rounds Wednesday morning with a program-record 51.46 seconds. That time—the fourth-fastest in the country this season—secured the Los Angeles native a host of accolades, including his first-ever All-ACC selection.
After struggling to consistently have multiple swimmers qualify for event finals after the morning preliminary rounds, four Duke swimmers raced Wednesday evening in the 100 breaststroke—the largest number of Blue Devils to final in any one event.
“That’s been a deep event for us over the last few years,” Colella said. “To have the seniors for the last four years has created a lot of depth in that event. To have three of them in the evening finals, we have a lot of young folks with big shoes to fill next year.”
Seniors Michael Miller and Kaz Takabayashi complemented Kropp’s stellar performance with 10th-place finishes in the 100-yard butterfly and 100-yard backstroke, respectively. Junior Matt Johnson rounded out the individual performances Thursday evening with a seventh-place finish in the 1,650-yard freestyle, the third-highest finish of any Blue Devil throughout the week.
Freshman Roger Kriegl also turned an impressive performance in the same event, finishing one spot behind Johnson for eighth—the highest finish of any Blue Devil freshman. Kriegl’s final time was more than 40 seconds faster than his original seed time, an enormous drop in a sport in which every second matters.
Despite the individual successes, Duke struggled in the relays, earning either sixth or seventh in all five events with a lot of points left on the table. Two of the nine program records broken were in relay events, though, so the inability to finish within the top five was more of a testament to the ACC's improvement than the way the Blue Devils performed.
"We talked at the end of the meet tonight about how resilient they were after that first morning,” Colella said. “To come back and perform the way they have the last two days for a total of nine school records during the course of the meet was a great accomplishment."
With ACCs fully wrapped up, many members of the team will now be forced to wait and see if their provisional cuts qualify for the NCAA championship later this month in Indianapolis. Almost every swimmer who competed this week has earned at least one provisional cut, so all eyes will be on the time standards the NCAA uses to determine qualification. For the seniors, this will represent their last opportunity to compete as Duke athletes.
“We talked about how we have a lot of shoes to fill,” Colella said. “It’s a big group of seniors, but we are excited about the way they performed here. Those that fell short of their goals here at the meet had a great learning experience, and hopefully it should be a great motivator for the spring and summer to do the things that they need to do to be better next year.”
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.