Coming off a promising performance at its last home meet against UNC Wilmington, Duke traveled to Raleigh this weekend to compete against top-ranked foes N.C. State (No. 4 men’s, No. 4 women’s) and Georgia (No. 9 men’s, No. 13 women’s). Despite Duke falling to the Wolfpack and Bulldogs on both sides of the meet, Friday night saw several inspired swims from the women and an overall impressive performance from the men.
“I am just psyched about this program and so proud of how they competed,” head coach Brian Barnes told GoDuke. “The energy that both the men and women brought to every event was unbelievable. The fight in this program has been awesome.”
The energy in Casey Aquatic Center was electric as Kaelyn Gridley and Sarah Foley finished first and second respectively in the second heat of the women’s 200-yard breaststroke. As the two Blue Devils raced down the final length against Abby Arens of N.C. State, Duke fans in the stands erupted into loud cheers and whistles. The three women all finished within a second of each other, with Gridley coming in first at 2:11.05 and Foley following this up with a time of 2:11.66. Gridley performed well earlier that night in the women’s 100-yard breaststroke, achieving a first-place finish in 1:00.56. Gridley’s dominance in short-distance breaststroke events ultimately led to the women’s team being only two points away from overtaking the Wolfpack.
Duke also took home first and second place in the women’s 100-yard butterfly, with Aleyna Ozkan effectively cutting on top of the water to earn first and an NCAA B-Cut time of 52.94. Sophomore Martina Peroni came in just over a second later to take silver on the podium. Peroni did, however, get her gold when she posted a time of 1:58.30 to place first in the 200-yard butterfly. With butterfly arguably being the most physically demanding stroke, both swimmers did a tremendous job of pushing themselves to the limit for the sake of their team.
While the men ended the tournament on the losing side of a 246-53 score against N.C. State and 243-56 score against Georgia, they showed incredible grit as an up-and-coming team. Despite having a smaller squad of only 15 swimmers compared to their competitors, the men’s team made it clear that the Wolfpack and Bulldogs were not going to control the show. In the 200-yard breaststroke, freshman Kalen Anbar finished fourth at 2:00.90. This was a four-second improvement from his previous personal best. Another impressive performance was from Blake Johnson, who placed fourth in the 200-yard free with a time of 1:37.30, beating out swimmers from both N.C. State and Georgia.
Women’s diving impressed, too, with Margo O’Meara earning a score of 312.25 to place second in the 1-meter dive. This comes just a week after O’Meara broke Duke’s pool records in the same event against UNC Wilmington. While the junior was unable to replicate her history-making performance, she has succeeded in establishing herself as a vital part of the women’s team this season. Sophomore Josie Zillig also contributed to the Blue Devils’ valiant efforts by placing second in the 3-meter dive with a score of 301.15. This was not enough to move the needle in favor of Duke, though, with final scores on the women’s side of 151-149 against N.C. State and 155-143 against Georgia.
Facing two elite programs, the women’s team was able to put together a string of strong races to keep it in contention. The Blue Devils championed the 200-yard medley relay, with swimmers Ali Pfaff, Gridley, Ozkan, and Tatum Wall putting their all into every leg. The team demonstrated that they could compete individually, but even more so when working together.
The men’s team was unable to keep up score-wise with its opponents, but never stopped fighting. While lacking the depth of the two other schools, there was certainly no shortage of competitive spirit.
“On the men's side it's the subtle challenge of showing our best, so we can plan for the rest of the fall and the rest of the season,” Barnes said. “We produced some of the best times out of our men's team tonight and we will continue to build on that.”
Next up, the Blue Devil divers will be traveling to Knoxville, Tenn., for the Tennessee Invitational from Nov. 16-18. The swimmers will be returning back to Raleigh for the Wolfpack Invitational the same weekend with a second chance at a win.
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