As the season draws to a close, Duke began its farewell to its seniors by attempting to complete a four-year sweep of the Tar Heels.
The Blue Devils returned to Taishoff Aquatic Pavillion for the first time since October for its Senior Day meet against North Carolina, but the day was bittersweet—and not just as a result of the emotional tributes to the seniors. Duke’s women defeated the Tar Heels for the fourth consecutive year in a nail-biting 152.5-147.5 victory, but the men fell short and lost 132-182.
“It was such high intensity and a lot of adrenaline,” said senior Alyssa Marsh. “Every girl on the block was shaking, but it was super fun to have that energy and this is one of the only meets where that comes out.”
Duke’s history against North Carolina had been completely lopsided for the last 77 years before the current senior class stepped onto the scene. Entering the 2016-17 season with a 73-meet drought against the Tar Heels, it seemed unlikely that Duke’s luck would change. However, with a star-studded class of swimmers and divers, Duke flipped the script on North Carolina and swept all three of the following meets in the series.
The first two events, the women and men’s 200-yard medley relay, were some of the most intense races of the year and featured broken records and broken Tar Heel hearts. Just when the women’s hopes started slipping away in the event, Marsh swooped in to save the day with a school record 21.98-second 50-yard butterfly.
From then on, the women’s meet went back and forth, too close to call at any point. After leading in the first two events, the Blue Devils fell behind for the majority of the meet, but were never far behind. In the second-to-last event, the individual medley, sophomore Easop Lee won by a razor-thin margin of .19 seconds, allowing Duke to pull ahead and secure the win.
On the other end of Taishoff Aquatic Pavilion, the diving squad put on an exceptional show, with senior Nathaniel Hernandez leading the way. Each time he walked to the front of the diving board, it was as if a drumroll began playing in anticipation of whatever gravity-defying stunt he had in store. The team captain of two years gave an all-time performance for his final home meet and ended the day with personal bests in the one-meter and three-meter diving events.
“There’s still a fair amount of the season left with championship season,” Hernandez said. “But as far as dual meets are concerned, I was really happy with today.”
Both teams swam like their lives depended on it and the result was a breathtaking and suspenseful meet, a worthy sendoff to Duke’s invaluable seniors.
“[The seniors are] going to be a big factor when we head to ACC’s and NCAA’s, and when it’s all over we’re going to miss them,” said head coach Dan Colella. “But it’s not over yet.”
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