The cheers were deafening in Taishoff Aquatic Pavilion as the men’s 200-yard freestyle relay thundered to its conclusion. All four legs had seen quick relay starts and incredible bursts of speed, keeping Duke in close competition with UNC Wilmington. When the men entered the final five yards, it was unclear who would emerge victorious — and then the teams tied for first place, with identical times of 1:22.34.
This final race encapsulated the energy of Friday afternoon’s meet. Showing off at home for the first time this season, the Blue Devils brought fierce competition to their matchup against the Seahawks. The women’s team dominated in the pool with big wins and impressive bursts of speed, while the men’s team battled through several close races but ultimately fell short.
“I saw a team that just made every event matter … they had no quit in them,” said head coach Brian Barnes after the meet.
Ali Pfaff, Molly Donlan, Kaelyn Gridley and Yi Xuan Chang all seized first-place finishes for the women’s team by huge margins. Donlan won the 200-yard backstroke with a time of 1:59.06, nearly three seconds ahead of teammate and second-place finisher Emily Lehinan. A few minutes later, Gridley pulled away in the 200-yard breaststroke to deliver a winning time of 2:14.49, touching the wall more than six seconds before the next competitor. In the women’s 500-yard freestyle, Chang was the only swimmer to break five minutes, securing first place with her time of 4:59.00.
The men’s team saw some closer races, many of which were nail-biting victories for the Blue Devils. David Chang barely touched first at the 50-yard split of the men’s 100-yard butterfly, but his impressive underwaters and powerful stroke allowed him to remain on top and emerge victorious with a time of 49.75. Blake Johnson battled throughout the 200-yard freestyle to stay ahead, ultimately touching out UNC Wilmington’s Jacob Duracinsky for first. Michael Jiang also swam a close race in the 200-yard backstroke, slowly increasing his lead to secure first place with a time of 1:48.17.
The men’s 200-yard freestyle relay — the surprising tie — was the most electric event of the afternoon, with tight competition from start to finish. Barnes said that the tie was “an interesting way to lose a meet” since each swimmer “put their heart and soul into it,” but couldn’t grab even the slightest edge.
But in other events, that same grit and determination led to Blue Devil dominance. Martina Peroni, Molly Donlan and Catherine Purnell secured the top-three finishes in the women’s 100-yard butterfly, while Chang, Donlan and Peroni also swept the 200-yard freestyle. In fact, the women’s team delivered a first-place finisher in every event except for the 400-yard individual medley and 200-yard freestyle relay. On the men’s side, JC Castrillon cruised to victory in the 1000-yard freestyle, while the men also took home first-place finishes in the 200-yard freestyle, both backstroke and both butterfly events.
Barnes said he was excited to see a team that “fought every swim.” But in his opinion, the real highlight of the meet was the diving performance. Junior Margo O’Meara broke the school’s pool record in the 1-meter dive with a score of 339.75. Will McCollum, Yannis Schattman and Seamus Harding swept both the men’s 1-meter and 3-meter dive podiums, while Josie Zillig, Emily Rakestraw, and Aliyah Watson took places one, two and three in the women’s 3-meter.
The women’s success in the pool delivered them a definitive 188-104 victory against UNC Wilmington. The men fell short of their first win, however, ending the meet on the wrong side of a 152.5-145.5 score.
As the Blue Devils head back on the road next week to compete against N.C. State, Barnes said that he hopes they will “bring the energy and the passion and the fire” to Raleigh, and build upon what has proven to be a strong opening to the season.
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