It came down to the last race: the women’s 400-yard relay. The Duke men had secured the win, and now the women had a chance to upset No. 20 North Carolina.
A Tar Heel relay team touched the wall first. The Duke women needed a second-place finish to win the dual meet.
That left sophomore Alyssa Marsh to battle for second with North Carolina’s Emma Layton. They swam stroke for stroke, with Taishoff Aquatics Pavillion roaring, until Marsh edged Layton by 28 hundredths of a second.
Both the Blue Devil men and women defeated North Carolina for the second straight year on Senior Day in Durham Saturday afternoon. The Duke women upset the nation’s 20th-best team 151-149, and the Duke men never relinquished an early lead to win 157.5-142.5.
The Blue Devils were dominant in the distance races and on the diving board. Senior Verity Abel and freshman Zack Washart turned in first-place finishes in the 1,000-yard freestyle, and sophomore Nathaniel Hernandez scored a career-best 358.80 on the one-meter board.
Duke’s all-time record against North Carolina had been 4-73 against the Tar Heel men and 1-38 against the Tar Heel women before the meet. But the team's seniors will wrap up their careers with two straight wins against their rivals, marking a new chapter in program history.
“Especially for us as our program has evolved, this senior group has been instrumental to helping this team grow and become a better team,” head coach Dan Colella said.
The divers got Duke off to a hot start against its biggest rival. The Blue Devils grabbed four of the top five finishes in the one-meter and three-meter dives. That success carried over to the 200-yard medley relay.
Junior Maddie Hess, freshman Connie Dean, sophomore Alyssa Marsh and senior Leah Goldman won the relay for the women in 1:40.68, while the men’s relay team of junior Max St. George, junior Sean Tate, sophomore Miles Williams and junior Yusuke Legard edged the Tar Heels by 25 hundredths of a second, clocking in at 1:28.21.
Next came the distance swimmers. In her last dual meet, Abel swept the women’s 500- and 1,000-yard freestyle races, almost lapping the last-place Tar Heel finisher in the 40-lap long race. In his first meet versus North Carolina, freshman Washart won the 1,000-yard freestyle and took home second place in the 500-yard race.
“Coming in this year, seeing the team’s atmosphere and everything, it got me really hyped up and excited to be here and do that for my team,” Washart said. “Toward the end, when we were watching every single swim and every single dive so intently, it was awesome.”
Duke did not run away with the win. After the distance swimmers, the Blue Devil men’s lead shrank, and the women traded leads with the Tar Heels.
“As we prepped for the meet, as coaches, you run all kinds of scenarios and scores,” Colella said. “No matter what we did in terms of our lineup, we always came up with it was going to probably be a two- to five-point swing.”
Before Marsh sealed the win in the women’s 400-yard relay, senior Leah Goldman swam in her final dual meet in the 200-yard individual medley. While at Duke, Goldman has competed at three straight NCAA championships. The Burlingame, Calif. native won the race in 2:00.40 and celebrated by slapping the water and flashing a Bull City hand gesture to her teammates as they went crazy on deck.
“We needed to win the event and get as many girls as we could to touch the wall before UNC,” Goldman said. “I just knew if I got that win, that would amp up the relays.”
Another positive to come out of the meet was the men’s first dual-meet win of the year.
“We’re really proud of our men and how they performed all year,” Colella said. “We just have come up a little bit short in a lot of meets, so to finish up the dual meet season with a victory over UNC is a great way to close it out, and especially for our senior men.”
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