Seven Blue Devils qualified to travel to Greensboro, N.C., for the NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships this past Wednesday through Saturday, competing in 11 events over the course of the four days.
And in the end, three athletes earned honorable mention All-America status, leading Duke to a 34th-place finish as a team.
Junior Maddi Pullinger received honorable mention in the one-meter dive, scoring 275.25 for a 15th-place finish. This was the diver’s second appearance at the NCAA Championships after finishing 23rd in 2019.
“For [Pullinger], she has had some other challenges over the course of the past couple of years that have interrupted her training, and for her to come back from those things and perform the way she did was a great way to finish up her junior year and get ready for her senior year,” head coach Dan Colella said.
Sophomore Ali Watson, meanwhile, earned her second consecutive All-American recognition in platform diving with a 16th-place finish. While last year’s NCAA Championships were cancelled, Watson was named a CSCAA All-American in the event due to her performances prior to the season’s abrupt ending.
Fellow sophomore Emma Shuppert also earned a second straight All-American honor in the 100-yard backstroke, placing 15th and breaking the school record with a time of 51.89 seconds.
“I really couldn’t believe it when I first looked up to the board,” Shuppert said. “If someone would have told me I was going to [break the school record] before I did it, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
Shupppert finished 11th in the 100-yard backstroke at the ACC Championships with a time of 53.22, shaving off over 1.3 seconds in just a few weeks.
“We’ve made some modifications, tweaked some things between ACCs and NCAAs that absolutely made a difference for her,” Colella said. “For her to make that kind of drop and to break the school record—like Ali, she qualified last year and didn’t get that opportunity. The NCAA Championship can be intimidating for their first go, and I think they did an exceptional job.”
Watson and Shuppert were among the eight Blue Devil women who had qualified for last year’s NCAA Championships before the event was cancelled due to COVID-19. While Duke was able to compete this year, there were still some personal obstacles to overcome.
“This season has been pretty challenging with everything going on with the pandemic,” Pullinger said. “So, I think rather than developing in the pool, I’ve developed more with my confidence and outside of the pool. I’ve put in a lot of work with building that confidence and making sure my mental health and mental stability are ready to go for competition.”
The Blue Devils competed admirably in other events as well. Freshman Sarah Foley competed in three events, placing 38th in the 200-yard IM, 43rd in the 100-yard breaststroke and 40th in the 200-yard breaststroke.
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Junior Cabell Whitlow and freshman Catherine Purnell represented Duke in the 200-yard butterfly, the former for the second time in three years. Whitlow and Purnell placed 42nd and 30th, respectively.
Junior Shayna Hollander placed 42nd in the 100-yard backstroke and 50th in the 50-yard freestyle.
“I wanted to note how incredibly proud we were of [Purnell] in her first event, which was the 400 IM,” Colella said. “The other young ladies that were swimming in her lane did what’s called a declared false start so that they didn’t have to compete. So she swam that race, which is probably one of the most challenging races of all, by herself. I’m just incredibly proud of all of them.”
Duke will go back to Greensboro this Wednesday through Saturday for the NCAA Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships. Junior Matthew Whelan will represent Duke in three events: the 50-yard freestyle, 100-yard butterfly and 200-yard butterfly. Freshman Seamus Harding Jr. will compete in platform diving.