Coming off of a successful showing at the Janis Hape Dowd Nike Invitational, the Blue Devil women’s team went into the ACC championship looking to finish near the top of the conference standings.
But although Duke came up short of bringing home the gold, the Blue Devils showed marked improvement from years past.
No. 25 Duke concluded the ACC championship this weekend in sixth place with 756.5 points Saturday in Greensboro, N.C., at the Greensboro Aquatic Center. Although the Blue Devils finished in the same place as last year, Duke improved by more than 30 points. Senior Leah Goldman was the sole Blue Devil swimmer to take a conference title, securing the gold in the 200-yard individual medley.
“All in all, the four days of competition we saw more final swims than we have in the past, so that was exciting,” Duke head coach Dan Colella said. “The divers in general were great this weekend. I'm very proud of what everyone accomplished over the course of the week.”
The Blue Devils finished day one in third behind North Carolina and Virginia with a total of 139 points. Junior Mackenzie Willborn took sixth in the one-meter springboard diving finals with a total of 282.70 points—surpassing the NCAA qualifying standards for the event. Other Duke divers including junior Lizzie Fitzpatrick, senior MaryEllen Targonski and sophomore Jaina Gaudette also contributed to the Blue Devils’ team score in the one-meter preliminaries—albeit coming short of the event finals.
Unfortunately for Duke, it was unable to maintain such high team scores despite individual heroics.
Day two saw Goldman’s historic run in the 200-yard I.M. Swimming outside smoke in lane one, the Burlingame, Calif., native clocked a time of 1:55.67—crushing her previous record of 1:57.33 and becoming the second 200-yard I.M. ACC champion in Duke history. Senior Verity Abel also notched a top-10 appearance in the 500-yard freestyle, taking sixth with a time of 4:43.08. However, an 11th-place finish in the 50-yard freestyle and a ninth-place finish in the 200-yard freestyle relay cost the Blue Devils, cutting them down three places to fall to sixth—being surpassed by Notre Dame, N.C. State and Louisville.
“It was an incredibly exciting event for Leah,” Colella said. “She had not made the A final in the tournament in a year. I know after last year being in the B final she wanted to be back in that A final here. She had a great swim this morning.... She just took it out and didn't look back.”
On day three, Goldman struck again for the Blue Devils in the 100-yard butterfly. Despite trailing Louisville’s Grace Oglesby and Florida State’s Tayla Lovemore for the first 50 yards, the senior Blue Devil found another gear down the stretch to overcome Lovemore, taking second with a time of 51.46. With top-10 finishes in the 400-yard I.M. courtesy of senior Lizzie Devitt and the 100-yard Backstroke thanks to junior Maddie Hess, as well as an eighth place showing from Willborn in the three-meter diving, Duke was able to climb a spot over the Fighting Irish heading into the final day of competition.
“It was another exciting evening,” Colella said. “It may have been one of our best evenings. It started with the 100 fly. To get Leah back on the podium this year was exciting. It was the fuel that ignited everybody swimming the way they did.”
In their final day of competition, the Blue Devils garnered top-10 finishes in all but two events, highlighted by consistently strong performances by the diving squad. Targonski led Duke on the boards, claiming All-ACC honors in placing second in the platform diving championship final. Outside of the deep end, senior Isabella Paez and sophomore Kylie Jordan both notched top-10 times in the 200-yard butterfly. Paez led the way with a time of 1:55.45 to take fourth, while Jordan found a mark of 1:58.35 for eighth. The squad of Marsh, Goldman, Hess and Jordan closed the meet out with a strong performance in the 400-yard freestyle relay, taking sixth with a time of 3:16.50—the second fast time in school history.
The women’s team will have almost a full month off before they’re back competing in the pool, with day one of the women’s NCAA Championship taking place March 14. In the meantime, the men’s team will be back in action later this week for its own ACC championships, kicking off Feb. 21.
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“The seniors were instrumental here in so many different ways,” Colella said. “They were great leaders in terms of helping the culture to continue to improve and be a championship culture.... Obviously they have a lot of experience under their belt, but it was a special class. We're looking forward for Leah to compete at NCAAs.”
An earlier version of this story included a photo of a male swimmer. The Chronicle regrets the error.