CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – In a back and forth battle that came down to the final relays, the Duke men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams came away with a pair of victories over North Carolina to cap the regular season in style Saturday at Koury Natatorium.
With both the men’s and women’s team scores tight at the final diving break, the Blue Devils received a boost from the boards and closed strong over the last few swimming events to defeat their Tobacco Road rivals for a third straight season. The 21st-ranked Duke women came away with a 165.5-134.5 victory while the Blue Devil men prevailed over the Tar Heels by a 155-145 score.
“To come here two years ago and win for the first time was huge,” said head coach Dan Colella. “We know how big a rivalry this is, and to now be in a position where we’re winning is enormous. For the last meet of the season, it’s a tremendous boost for the team. The performances today were just outstanding across the board. We told them it was going to take an absolute team effort, that every single point mattered and there’s no question that, swimming and diving, everybody stood up and did what they needed to do. Hats off to the UNC crew. They swam really tough today and it was a battle down to the last relay.”
Senior Evan Moretti and junior Nathaniel Hernandez finished one-two in both of the men’s springboard diving events and sophomore Spencer LaFata turned in a pair of exhilarating performances in the men’s 500 and 1,000-yard freestyle races, while senior Maddie Hess and freshman Cabell Ann Whitlow were both double event winners for the women’s squad. Duke claimed three of the four relay events on the day, including the crucial 400 freestyle relay races to close out the meet.
The women’s 200 medley relay of Hess, sophomore Halle Morris, junior Alyssa Marsh and senior Hunter Aitchison dropped a season-best time of 1:38.63 to kick off the afternoon with a victory. LaFata then touched first in a thrilling men’s 1,000 freestyle race, turning in the fourth-fastest mark in program history at 9:16.84.
The top two spots in the women’s and men’s 200 freestyle went to Blue Devils as freshmen Melissa Pish (1:46.89) and Easop Lee (1:48.21) went one-two for the women and juniors Miles Williams (1:37.97) and Sheldon Boboff (1:38.53) did the same for the men. Hess and Marsh added first-place finishes in the women’s 100 backstroke (53.51) and 50 freestyle (22.45), respectively, and Duke also excelled in the women’s and men’s 200 butterfly. Whitlow clocked the second-fastest time in school history (1:56.78) to take first on the women’s side, with junior Kylie Jordan following in second (1:57.67). Another Blue Devil rookie, Matthew Whelan, was first in the men’s race (1:49.74).
Duke kept the momentum rolling after the first swimming break, as Hess (49.83), Pish (50.27) and Aitchison (50.96) swept the top three places in the women’s 100 freestyle and senior Yusuke Legard (44.61) brought home a win in the same event on the men’s side.
In the meantime, the Blue Devil divers bolstered the team scores with strong performances at the other end of the pool. Moretti (371.03) and Hernandez (364.80) placed first and second in the men’s one-meter competition and later repeated that order of finish on the three-meter board. Senior Lizzie Fitzpatrick led the Duke women on the three-meter board in second (308.33) and was third behind a Maddi Pullinger first-place showing at the one-meter height (323.33).
After senior Max St. George recorded a victory in the men’s 200 backstroke (1:47.32), Duke’s distance swimmers made another statement. Lee claimed the women’s 500 freestyle (4:50.07) and LaFata finished strong once again for first in the men’s race (4:33.78).
“In that 500 free, Spencer and Riley [Hickman] and Zach [Washart] – that was one of the events we knew was going to be really, really tight,” Colella said. “We weren’t really sure which was it was going to go. Spencer today just really stood up and did a magnificent job, both in the 1,000 and the 500. He’s just one of many who really shined today.”
Team scores in both meets remained tight through the final break, but the Blue Devils capitalized in the women’s one-meter and men’s three-meter diving competitions, as well as in the 200 individual medley. Whitlow (2:01.24) and Jordan (2:01.71) finished one-two in the women’s race and senior Sean Tate (1:50.70) headlined a two-three-four-five showing by Duke on the men’s side. The top 400 freestyle relays of Pish, Marsh, Aitchison and Hess (3:18.55) and Williams, Legard, Nathaniel Hartley and St. George (2:56.70) secured the dual meet victories.
“We didn’t know exactly what was going to happen today,” Hess said. “We knew it was going to be really close. But we knew with our Duke family coming together, we were capable – just like the past two years. There’s always extra excitement for this meet knowing that they’re our biggest rivals, so it was fun to be a part of that again.”
With Saturday’s results, the Duke women closed the regular season with a 4-1 dual meet ledger and a 2-1 mark against ACC opponents while the Blue Devil men finished up at 3-2 (1-2).
The Blue Devils and the Tar Heels will share hosting responsibilities for next weekend’s Janis Hape Dowd Nike Invitational. Preliminaries and finals Friday, Feb. 8 and Sunday, Feb. 10 will take place at North Carolina’s Koury Natatorium and both sessions Saturday, Feb. 9 will be held at Duke’s Taishoff Aquatics Pavilion.
Duke Women 165.5, North Carolina Women 134.5
Duke Men 155, North Carolina Men 145
Top Duke Finishers by Event:
Women’s 200-Yard Medley Relay: Maddie Hess, Halle Morris, Alyssa Marsh, Hunter Aitchison (1st), 1:38.63
Men’s 200-Yard Medley Relay: Max St. George, Sean Tate, Miles Williams, Yusuke Legard (2nd), 1:27.67
Women’s 400-Yard Freestyle Relay: Melissa Pish, Alyssa Marsh, Hunter Aitchison, Maddie Hess (1st), 3:18.55
Men’s 400-Yard Freestyle Relay: Miles Williams, Yusuke Legard, Nathaniel Hartley, Max St. George (1st), 2:56.70