DURHAM, N.C. – The Duke swimming and diving program will kick off its 2013-14 campaign Saturday, Oct. 5 at 10 a.m. at the All-North Carolina Invitational, which will be held at the Greensboro Aquatic Center in Greensboro, N.C. The Blue Devil swimmers will compete only on the second day of the two-day event, which features 13 schools from across the state.
“Saturday gives us an opportunity to race in Greensboro, which is the facility that’s going to host ACCs later in the spring,” said head coach Dan Colella. “It gives our freshmen who have not seen the facility to swim there. We’re really just starting to get into our training, but we’re going to go over and do some racing to see where we are.”
Saturday’s events include women’s and men’s competitions in the 200-yard medley relay, 400 individual medley, 100 butterfly, 200 freestyle, 100 breaststroke, 100 backstroke, 1,650 freestyle, 200 backstroke, 100 freestyle, 200 breaststroke, 200 butterfly and the 400 freestyle relay.
The 13 teams slated to take part in the invitational along with the Blue Devils include Campbell, Catawba, Davidson, East Carolina, Gardner Webb, Greensboro College, North Carolina A&T, host NC State, Pfeiffer, Queens University of Charlotte, St. Andrew’s University, UNC Asheville and Wingate.
Admission for the All-North Carolina Invitational is free, but parking at the Greensboro Aquatic Center will be $5 per day.
Duke returns to the Greensboro Aquatic Center, the site of the 2013 and 2014 ACC Championships, following a successful season by both the men’s and women’s teams in 2012-13. A talented class of 24 incoming freshmen joins 16 returning letterwinners on the men’s side and 18 returning letterwinners on the women’s side from last season, including three-time NCAA platform diving champion Nick McCrory and All-ACC performers Hunter Knight, Lauren Weaver and Christine Wixted. Last year’s campaign saw both Blue Devil squads finish seventh at the 2013 ACC Championships, with the women breaking 14 program records and the men four at the championship meet. McCrory also propelled the Duke men to a 17th-place finish at the NCAA Championships, capturing his third title on the platform and earning All-America accolades in all three diving disciplines.
GoDuke.com recently caught up with Colella and head diving coach Nunzio Esposto ahead of the start of the 2013-14 season to preview the strengths of the squads by group.
An All-ACC performer and NCAA qualifier last year in the 50 freestyle, senior Lauren Weaver returns to lead a group of promising sprinters on the women’s side. Meanwhile, the men will look for new talent to emerge following the graduation of Ben Hwang and Adam Flur last May. Colella expects strong groups on both teams to fuel the Blue Devils’ sprint relays.
Colella’s Take: “Qualifying for NCAAs has gotten Lauren even more hungry for this season. We’re going to count on her in terms of leadership, to encourage the younger swimmers … On the men’s side, we not only have a large freshman class but it’s a very, very talented group.”
With the loss of Ted Minturn to graduation, the Duke men will call upon its newest additions in the backstroke lane. Megan McCarroll, the women’s program record holder at the 100-yard distance, will look to final in the event at the ACC Championships after finishing 12th last year.
Colella’s Take: “In the backstroke, it’s a little bit more raw, but some good potential there … We’re of course looking to Megan McCarroll to continue with what she’s done the last couple years. I know she’s excited about the coming year.”
One of the Blue Devils’ most talented and consistent stroke groups in recent years, Colella anticipates more outstanding performances again this season. All-ACC performers Hunter Knight and Christine Wixted return, with Wixted aiming to once again qualify for NCAAs. Graduate student Emily Barber overcame injury to turn in a solid summer of training, scoring in the 100 breaststroke at the U.S. Open, and newcomers Peter Kropp and Dylan Payne begin their collegiate careers as a couple of the top breaststroke swimmers in the nation at the high school level.
Colella’s Take: “We’re really strong in the breaststroke this year, stronger even than we’ve been in the last couple years … It’s great to have Christine Wixted back. She had a taste of NCAAs and her goal this year is to score at NCAAs.”
The women added depth to the butterfly lane with the addition of the freshman class, particularly at the 200-yard distance, while senior Lauren Weaver and junior Ali Horn figure to be among the top performers as well. For the men, junior Clay Sanders has demonstrated steady improvement while sophomore Kenny Ng will make his Duke debut this fall.
Key Performers: Women –Weaver, Horn, Linsay Cooper, Kiera Molloy, Brittany Friese, Maddie Rusch, Jessie Sutherland, Colleen Wixted; Men – Sanders, Kenny Ng, Rahul Chokshi, Bradley Cline, Michael Miller, Dylan Payne, Kaz Takabayashi
Colella’s Take: “This is an event where on the freshman side, we picked up some great fliers. We have four or five freshmen guys coming in who are faster than our best time last year in the 100 butterfly. There’s a ton of potential.”
Both the men’s and women’s teams will be deeper this year in the distance events with the addition of newcomers Lindsay Schlichte and Brittany Friese on the women’s side and Sam Sherman for the men. Senior Jonathan Derlath will also be back, as well as sophomore Megan Price.
Key Performers: Women – Friese, Schlichte; Men – Sherman
Colella’s Take: “We’re excited to have our newcomers in distance … Lindsay has a great work ethic, great attitude. Sam Sherman is very raw but an incredible go-getter. He loves to train. We think some of his best swimming is in the years to come.”
Freshman Michael Miller joins the IM group this fall after posting a second-place finish in the 200 IM over the summer at the NCSA Junior Nationals. Junior Tyler Toren figures to play a role for the men’s team as well while rookies Liza Bragg and Ashleigh Shanley will join Christine Wixted in being important contributors.
Colella’s Take: “IM has been an event that for the last few years, we’ve been kind of thin in that area. I don’t think we’re that thin anymore.”
The combination of talented returners and incoming talent should yield improved relay results from a year ago, Colella says. He particularly expects the Blue Devils’ sprint relays will contend with the best in the ACC and possible qualification to NCAAs.
Colella’s Take: “Every coach dreams of their team being in a position to get relays to NCAAs. It’s not an easy task, however, we think we have the people this year who have the potential and the ability … The relays are an integral part as we try to qualify more and more people to NCAAs.”
Olympic medalist and three-time platform diving national champion Nick McCrory will be aiming for his fourth NCAA title in the event this year while also contending for the national championship on the 1 and 3-meter springboards. Under the direction of Esposto, who begins his first season at Duke, junior Clay Pinckney and sophomores Deon Reid, Jaimee Gundry and Kendall McClenney will look to turn in more strong performances at the ACC meet and beyond, while the program will also be bolstered by the addition of newcomers Cole Plambeck and Kirby Quinn.
Esposto’s Take: “I got to work with the two freshmen this summer and I got to work with Nick a little bit this summer and then Kendall. I’m really glad that the freshmen came early because now they’re already acclimated. They’re both very excited to start the season off, and the same with all of them. There’s a sense of excitement.”