The NCAA Men's Swimming and Diving Championships were one to remember for both competing Blue Devils.
Duke closed out its season with the four-day meet in Greensboro, N.C., last Wednesday through Saturday, with junior Matthew Whelan and freshman Seamus Harding Jr. representing the Blue Devils. Both were competing in the NCAA Championships for the first time, with Whelan swimming in the 200-yard butterfly, 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly and Harding competing in platform diving.
“[Harding] being a freshman, obviously it's incredibly wonderful that he's able to have the opportunity to compete at NCAAs this year,” head coach Dan Colella said. “For [Whelan], we talked after he was done competing about how much growth he's actually had this year and matured as an athlete. And as a result of all the work, we're at NCAAs.”
Whelan’s most notable swim came Friday when the junior swam a career-best 46.91 seconds in the 100-yard butterfly, tying him for fourth-fastest in program history.
“I broke the 47-second barrier,” Whelan said. “It’s obviously nice to break barriers even if it’s just a tenth or two faster. I was really excited about that. I know a lot of people come into their first NCAAs very nervous and a lot of people don't drop. So just to come out from my first NCAAs and have a career-best, I'm pretty proud of that.”
The Richmond, Va., native competed on three of the four days of the competition, starting off with a time of 20.08 seconds in Thursday's 50-yard freestyle morning preliminaries to put him at 47th in the event. After his career-best day Friday, he placed 29th with a time of 1:44.33 in Saturday's 200-yard butterfly.
Friday was not the only time all year that Whelan etched his name in the Duke record books, though. In order to secure his spot at NCAAs in the 200-yard butterfly, Whelan recorded a school-record time of 1:42.41 in the event at the UNC Last Chance Meet March 7, the final meet prior to the NCAA Championships.
On the diving board, Harding had to wait until Saturday for his chance to compete, eventually placing 25th in platform diving with his score of 299.40.
The Hillsborough, N.J., native has been a standout over the second half of the season for the Blue Devils, but his path to this point wasn't always smooth. Harding suffered a concussion earlier in the season that prevented him from competing until 2021, but he overcame it to secure a spot in the NCAA Championships.
“The goal for this year was to make NCAAs, and I was very excited that I made that goal,” Harding said. “When I got to NCAAs, the idea was to just go out there and have fun and give it my best. My performance, overall, I felt like I could do better. I didn't hit some of the dives I really wanted to hit, but the other dives I felt were good. I definitely have some goals that I want to work on for next year."
The team had an overall solid performance at the NCAA Championships for both the men and women this year. Not only that, but all the Blue Devils who competed at this year's event will be back again next season, indicating that the future is bright for the program.
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