In a season unlike any in years past, the Blue Devil women at least saw one thing remain constant: their finish in the ACC Championships.
No. 24 Duke finished in sixth place in the meet for the fifth time in the past six years, totaling 647 points. No. 2 Virginia won the ACC title with 1486 points, while No. 13 North Carolina placed eighth with 516.5 points.
While the result may have been a familiar one for the Blue Devils, that doesn’t mean the process to get there was.
“The first thing is, in this year of COVID, we were extremely grateful and excited to even be in Greensboro this past week,” head coach Dan Colella said. “It’s definitely been a year with a lot of challenges, but the team really came through. Very excited for them.”
The highlight of the meet for Duke came from sophomore Ali Watson, who earned All-ACC recognition for the second consecutive season in the diving platform event. Watson placed second in the event this past Saturday after placing third last year.
Junior Maddi Pullinger and senior Ellie Winslow also made A-Finals on the diving side, both in the one-meter event. Pullinger placed sixth, while Winslow placed eighth.
On the swimming side, two freshmen led the way in Sarah Foley and Catherine Purnell, who both made separate A-Finals as well. Foley placed eighth in the 200-yard breaststroke, while Purnell placed eighth in the 400-yard IM. Both newcomers wrapped up impressive first seasons in Durham, with performances that bode well for the future of the program.
“The ACC conference over the course of the last five years has probably become one of the most competitive, if not the most competitive conference in the country. You've got some really exceptional teams within the conference—I would say, you probably have eight teams that are in the top 25 on a regular basis when it comes to the poll,” Colella said. “For [the freshmen] to do the things that they did over the course of these four days, I think bodes incredibly well for them, and also for the future.”
On the other end of the experience spectrum, three seniors and a graduate transfer competed in potentially their final conference championships: Winslow, Quinn Scannell, Carly Perri and Mia Bullock.
Scannell and Perri placed 15th and 20th in the 200-yard freestyle, respectively, with Scannell adding in a 19th-place finish in the 100-yard freestyle. Bullock, a graduate transfer from Fordham, placed 16th and 20th in the 200-yard and 100-yard breaststroke.
Scannell and Perri—alongside Foley and sophomore Olivia Tighe—also helped guide Duke to a fifth-place finish in the 800-yard freestyle relay, the Blue Devils' best relay performance of the meet.
“The seniors did a really, really great job—they've been great leaders all year long in terms of keeping the team focused and motivated and inspired,” Colella said. “Everybody being kind of cooped up and having to do what you needed to do to stay safe made it a challenge and they did a great job of keeping the women on task and keeping them motivated during the course of the season.”
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The men divers also competed in their portion of the ACC Championships last week, with freshman Seamus Harding leading the Blue Devils with a sixth-place finish in the platform event.
Next, the men’s swimming team will wrap up the ACC Championships the remainder of this week, with both teams then starting to prepare for a couple of final tune-up meets and the NCAA Championships in March.