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'That team atmosphere': As fall rolls on, Duke swimming & diving making clear strides

Head coach Dan Colella has guided the Blue Devil women to a 4-0 start.
Head coach Dan Colella has guided the Blue Devil women to a 4-0 start.

A 3-0 start to a season is something to be proud of, and this is where Duke women’s swim & dive was before Nov. 6. 

But by defeating Georgia Tech at home in the Taishoff Aquatic Center by 199-101 that Saturday, the Blue Devils were elevated to a historic start: 4-0 is territory Duke has been in just four times previously since 1980. Meanwhile, the men rallied but ultimately fell to the higher-ranked Georgia Tech team, losing 173-127.

“It definitely feels like seasons of old” said senior Harel Anolick, the top Duke finisher in both men’s diving events. “It’s remarkably more similar to that.” 

This meet was not only the Blue Devils' third of the season, but third in just over three weeks—a quick succession of competition over a relatively small amount of time. Despite this, the team hasn’t let fatigue overcome them, and their performances are only getting faster.

 “This was the third straight week of racing and they have improved every week” head coach Dan Colella told GoDuke.com. “We needed individuals to really step up today and they [did]... this was a true team effort.” 

With the Blue Devils getting set for the Wolfpack Invitational, which gets going Thursday, here are some trends from the first portion of the season.

Youth movement

In a clear trend, freshmen have been a huge part of the Blue Devils’ success this season. First year virtuoso Yixuan Chang continued her impressive winning streak, sweeping her three individual events—the 200 freestyle, 500 freestyle, and 200 individual medley—while also leading off the women’s 400 freestyle relay to a first-place finish. Perhaps most impressive on that relay, though, was another freshman: McKenna Smith, who also swept the women’s sprints, dove into the pool as the anchor leg, trailing Georgia Tech by a second but touching first at the end. Her split of 49.85 was not only the only one of the field under 50 seconds, but the only one under 51

“I was cheering for everyone, and them in turn for me, so that’s [how] we all were able to pull out the win. It was really exciting” Smith stated in response to her performance.

However, the freshmen are not the only ones bringing home big points for Duke. Three male seniors—Cole Reznick, Harel Anolick and David Hallaron—brought home two second-place finishes apiece across freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and diving events. While the men fell short of winning outright, it’s hard to say the result was very disappointing—in the most recent CSCAA poll, Georgia Tech’s men were ranked in No. 19, while Duke’s were unranked.

Diving’s domination

While swimming and diving contributed to the successes of the meet, it’s been an especially big week for diving. Freshman Margo O’Meara swept the women’s diving board events, continuing her undefeated streak on the boards. Three days later, she was announced as the ACC Diver of the Week. O’Meara is a strong team member, but her team is also deep—multiple different divers have been Duke’s best over the past three meets, showing their depth of performance. This week, it was O’Meara and aforementioned senior Harel Anolick who were the top performers. But in the past, Seamus Harding Jr., Will McCollum, Ali Watson, Maddy Pfaff and Emily Rakestraw have all placed within the top-three in diving events, showing the team’s depth in that field.

It’s been a big week for Duke divers outside of the pool as well. The same day O’Meara was named ACC Diver of the Week, former Duke diver and Olympic medalist Nick McCrory was named to CSCAA’s 100 Best Swimmers and Divers of the century. And international success does not fall far from the Duke diving tree: O’Meara is scheduled to travel to the World Junior Diving Championships later this year in Kyiv, Ukraine, as a double defending U.S. Junior National Champion. 

A look ahead

While the women are off to an outstanding start, and the men off to a solid one, the Blue Devils will truly be tested starting Thursday, when they travel to Greensboro, N.C., to compete in the Wolfpack Invitational. The meet will feature some of the country’s top-ranked programs including Stanford—the NCAA Champions from 2019—and N.C. State, both of whom finished top-10 at last year’s NCAAs on the women's side. With six other teams at the Invitational as well as the aforementioned two, this upcoming meet will have not only the most competition Duke will see this fall, but likely the toughest as well.

Despite this, the Blue Devils are optimistic about their chances, citing their strength not only as individuals, but as an overall unit. 

“I think that team atmosphere is what’s gonna get us to go far,” Smith said. “I don’t just care about my swimming, but about each and every other person’s swimming, and what we can do as a whole to be better...that’s where a lot of our energy stems from.”


Babu Chatterjee

Babu Chatterjee is a Trinity junior and sports staff reporter for The Chronicle's 117th volume.

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