One year ago, N.C. State swimmer Ryan Held won an NCAA Relay Title with his 400-free relay team. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Held swam with Michael Phelps and won a gold medal in the free relay for the U.S. Friday, Held will take on Yusuke Legard, Miles Williams, Sean Tate and Max St. George on Duke’s free relay team, which is coming off a strong first meet.
Duke squared off against Virginia Tech and Florida State, two top-25 programs, in its first dual meet. The women beat Seminoles but lost to the Hokies. The men lost to both teams. The Blue Devils' next meet won’t get any easier.
Duke will face three-time defending ACC champions N.C. State in a dual meet with Penn State in Raleigh at 5 p.m Friday. Duke brings the 20th-ranked women’s team to Raleigh and will battle an N.C. State team ranked No. 8 for men and No. 5 for women. Although they are unranked, the Nittany Lion’s men’s team is fresh off a near upset of No. 22 Virginia.
“When you race a team that’s a top-10 program in the country, it’s with the idea of getting better,” Duke head coach Dan Colella said. “[Penn State] has a program that is going to be very competitive with us. If we swim up to our capabilities, I think we should be able to come away with a win. But they’re a team you can’t take lightly.”
Aside from the Wolfpack's three consecutive ACC titles, they have also made deep runs in the NCAA tournament, finishing 4th overall the past two years. Meanwhile Duke finished 32nd and Penn State edged the Blue Devils for 28th.
N.C. State is a well-rounded team—backstroker Justin Ress won the U.S. Open this summer in the 50-meter backstroke, and Held leads its 400-free relay.
Legard, Williams, Tate and St. George on Duke’s 400-free have impressed Colella. Friday, they will have a chance to upset the nation’s best relay team.
“To break three minutes in that 400-free relay in the first meet of the season...I’m pretty certain that we’ve been under three minutes, but I don’t know [if we have] that early in the season,” Colella said. "I’m really proud of how they stood up and raced against two top-20 programs.”
The men’s 400-free wasn’t the only relay to grab his attention. The men’s and women’s 200-yard medley teams also turned in stellar races.
“We’ve been particularly strong in the medley relays over the years,” Colella said. “But graduating that huge senior class last year, there was a little bit of an unknown as to how these guys would step up, and they were phenomenal.”
After securing first place in the medley, sophomore Alyssa Marsh and freshman Connie Dean continued the momentum. In her debut, Dean finished two-tenths of a second behind Florida State in the 200-yard breaststroke. Marsh added two wins in both the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly.
Duke excelled on the diving board as well and will be favored in the three-meter against N.C. State. Evan Moretti won the last meet with a 390.45, and N.C. State’s highest score all of last season was a 360.85.
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To get ready for Friday, Colella had his team focusing on the finish.
“We didn’t fight the last 10 yards like we traditionally do. We didn’t change the training dramatically, but we put an emphasis on really closing our races,” Colella said. “I think early in the season, they may have been out of touch with some of those little details, so it was just about reminding them [in practice].”
N.C. State will be the favorite Friday, but Penn State will challenge Duke. The Nittany Lions' strength is their mid-distance swimmers, and their men’s team is confident after losing to No. 22 Virginia by only two points. Breaststroker Kaelan Freund won gold in the 100 meters at the Canadian Swimming Championships. Women’s swimmer Aly McHugh took home silver at the World University Games.
“[Duke swimming and diving] is a team that has big goals, and they are working incredibly hard for those goals,” Colella said. “They want to be known as fighters, and they are definitely going to have an opportunity this weekend.”