Duke women record best-ever finish at ACC Swimming and Diving Championships, men finish 10th

The Blue Devil women logged a top-five finish for the third year running at the ACC Championships.
The Blue Devil women logged a top-five finish for the third year running at the ACC Championships.

Five days. Five medals. One record. At the ACC Swimming and Diving Championships, Duke made every lap count.

The show began Tuesday night when Ali Pfaff, Kaelyn Gridley, Aleyna Ozkan and Tatum Wall smashed Duke’s school record in the 200-yard medley relay. Their lightning time of 1:36.56 — and then 1:35.85, breaking the record — earned them fifth place and an NCAA A-cut.

Then Margo O’Meara took home a silver medal in the women’s 3-meter dive, flipping her way to a score of 355.35. The junior from St. Louis won the preliminary round but was ultimately edged out in finals by North Carolina senior Aranza Vazquez. Her podium finish was especially impressive considering that shoulder surgery rehab prevented her from training for the 3-meter until early January. 

“It was my first big competition in about 22 months,” O’Meara said. “So with little training, I really had to focus and pull it all together.” 

For head coach Brian Barnes, the first night highlighted Blue Devil potential. 

“I did have a vision of a faster relay,” he said of the record-breaking event. “But it set a good tone for the meet … and Margo O’Meara’s performances on the 3-meter and 1-meter were unbelievable.”

On Wednesday, teammates Sarah Foley and Martina Peroni raced in the A-final of the women’s 200-yard IM, seeded second and seventh, respectively. Although Foley spent much of the race battling Helen Noble from N.C. State for third place, she managed to claw ahead by 0.17 seconds in the last 25 yards and claim the bronze medal with a time of 1:55.12. Peroni finished eighth in 1:58.57.

O’Meara earned another medal to round out the night. Her point total of 302.20 in the 1-meter dive was enough to secure a second bronze for the Blue Devils.

“I’d say it was pretty successful,” she said of the event. “I missed my back one-half but came back in with a huge dive in reverse one-half pike. I’m hoping to continue an upward trend for zones and NCAAs.”

On Thursday, the women’s 200-yard freestyle final saw Foley in a tight race for third with Virginia’s Maxine Parker and Cavan Gormsen. The three women stayed dead-even for the whole event, with no swimmer able to gain a solid lead. Foley and Gormsen ultimately tied for fourth with identical times of 1:44.32. They both fell just one millisecond short of Parker, who touched in at 1:44.31 to secure the bronze medal. 

“She just dialed in and competed out of lane one,” Barnes said. “Did everything she could to get her hand on the wall. It was a pretty cool snag.”

But the Blue Devils were back on the podium Friday with outstanding races from several swimmers. Peroni cruised to second place in the women’s 200-yard butterfly, taking home yet another silver medal for Duke with her time of 1:54.00. Teammate Catherine Purnell also swam in the A-final and placed eighth.

Gridley fought through an impossibly close race in the women’s 100-yard breastroke, tying with two other swimmers for third place and a bronze medal. She, Virginia’s Emma Weber, and North Carolina’s Skyler Smith were all separated by less than 0.31 milliseconds at the first 50 turn and finished the race with identical times of 58.81.

All the close finishes might have been discouraging, but Barnes had other thoughts. 

“You could dissect those races … but that’s not the name of the game,” he said. “I saw many, many moments where we finished like champions.”

Pfaff also represented the Blue Devils Friday, taking fourth in the women’s 100-yard backstroke, improving on her prelims time by nearly half a second and securing an NCAA A-cut bid.

On Saturday, Gridley came out on top of a close battle for fourth place in the women’s 200-yard breaststroke. Though the sophomore just missed the podium, just 0.25 seconds separated her time of 2:08.48 from the sixth-place finisher.

With a final tally of 779.5 points, the women’s team achieved the highest point total at a single ACC Championship meet in program history. The score was enough to land them fifth place, their third-consecutive top-five finish at the meet.

The men found more modest success, putting up competitive races in the B- and C- finals. Michael Jiang finished 23rd in the 200-yard backstroke, touching in with a time of 1:44.27. On Thursday, Kalen Anbar brought home a 21st-place finish in the 400-yard IM with a final time of 3:51.09. Two days later, the freshman secured 15th place in the 200-yard breaststroke with a time of 1:57.13. Junior Blake Johnson also scored points with a 23rd-place finish in the 500-yard freestyle. In the end, the men’s collective point total of 287 landed them in 10th.

Barnes looked with optimism to the season’s upcoming end. 

“We have the best conference in the country,” he said. “So it was really cool to see this group come together and take risks to be really, really good at this meet.” 

Heading into NCAA Championships and Zones competitions in March, he said this week’s performance “just gives us confidence.” 


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