After last season was cut short due to COVID-19, Duke opened the 2020 campaign with a strong start against Virginia Tech.
The Blue Devils gave their all Saturday at Taishoff Aquatic Pavilion. The competition was intense and exciting, though the men’s team fell short by a score of 120.5-171.5 while the women’s team tied 150-150, the first time in school history the women finished in a tie.
“I think they did an awesome job with getting up and racing,” associate head coach Dawn Kane said. “We've been practicing for this. We've been training really hard. I will say they're probably in a pretty tough cycle right now. So they're tired, and they really stepped up and raced today.”
Head coach Dan Colella was absent from the meet due to personal reasons, according to a team spokesman.
Freshman Sarah Foley particularly impressed Saturday, winning three events, the most of any Blue Devil. The Philadelphia native won the women’s 100-yard breaststroke in 1:01.38 (fourth all-time in program history), the 200-yard breaststroke in 2:11.95 (second all-time) and the 400-yard IM in 4:13.87 (fifth all-time). Although this was Foley’s first meet, she made sure to not let nerves get the best of her.
“I was definitely really nervous, especially with my lineup,” Foley said. "I was just in high school. I never really swam as many events at a meet, and not as many long ones, so I was a little nervous about that. But I knew from the training we've been doing that everyone was going to swim really well. And I think the energy of a college meet is kind of unmatched, and that really helped me today.”
The Blue Devils began the meet strong, placing in both first and second in the women’s 200-yard IM relay. The Duke “A” team, consisting of sophomore Emma Shuppert, freshmen Aleyna Ozkan and Foley, and junior Shayna Hollander led with a time of 1:40.19. Although the Blue Devils are a relatively young team, they worked seamlessly together under the leadership of the more experienced swimmers.
“It was...a younger squad, and that just speaks about what our future looks like for the next few years. We're just always trying to get better in the ACC and the NCAA,” Kane said. “We can count on our younger swimmers, as well as the experience of the older swimmers…. It puts us in a good position for the future.”
Maddi Pullinger led the diving squad, sweeping the field in both her events. The junior scored 301.58 and 324.53 for the women’s one and three-meter diving events, respectively. Now in her third year with the program, Pullinger prides herself on being a leader for the team.
“I'm happy to just lead by example. I don't like talking about my achievements. I don't like talking about myself,” Pullinger said. “So I think putting in the work in the gym and in the pool and showing my teammates that by putting in the work, you can achieve your goals.”
Sophomore Brendan Driscoll and junior Cole Reznick led the men’s side. Driscoll missed the spring portion of the 2019 season due to an ankle injury but returned in style, taking the win in the 1000-yard freestyle with a time of 9:20.89. Reznick, meanwhile, won the 100-yard breaststroke and 400-yard IM with times of 51.115 and 3:59.52, respectively.
While COVID-19 restrictions kept a lot of athletes out of the water over the spring and summer, Duke didn’t allow those complications to hinder its preparation for the season.
“I think everybody is dealing with this a little bit differently,” Kane said. “Throughout the summer, everybody was out of the water at some point or another, some for longer. And so coming back, we just took it in stride. We definitely built them back up into it, so that we weren't creating any injuries up front or any burnout or anything like that.”
The Blue Devils will travel to Annapolis, Md., to take on Navy this coming Saturday in their final meet before winter break.
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