AUSTIN, Texas – The Duke women qualified a relay to finals for the third straight evening to cap an outstanding showing at the NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships, held at Texas’ Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center.
Behind a program record three individual and three relay All-America performances over the course of the meet, the Blue Devils were 23rd in the final team standings with 47 points. The 23rd-place finish marked the second highest in women’s program history and the highest since 2011. Duke also qualified a relay to finals for the first time in program history, bringing the total number of All-America accolades earned under the direction of head coach Dan Colella to 28.
“We had a really big group of folks who were all contributing to the success of those relays,” Colella said. “This weekend, for everyone, but especially for the freshmen, this being their first time at NCAAs, to walk away from the competition as All-Americans on those relays is a great motivator and something they’re going to want more of in the coming years. The whole experience for everybody – this has what we’ve talked about, worked towards all season long. What’s been fun is over the last four or five years, it seems like there are continually firsts for our program. One of our goals was to really start working on being a top-25 program, and then once we’re in the top 25, just beginning to climb that ladder. They did an absolutely great job from start to finish.”
The quartet of freshman Melissa Pish, senior Maddie Hess, senior Hunter Aitchison and junior Alyssa Marsh combined for a mark of 3:14.06 in the 400-yard freestyle preliminaries Saturday morning to break the program record and qualify for the consolation final in 12th. The group moved up one spot in finals, dropping even more time to go 3:12.90 for 11th in the field. The performance was good for honorable mention All-America accolades.
“Last year we were first alternate, second alternate in a couple of relays,” Colella said. “So to come this year and be in a position where we got three relays back at night was a huge stepping stone for us. What we talked to the women about was taking a look at the teams that we beat here at NCAAs and just how far we’ve come over the years. Couldn’t be more proud of what they accomplished … To come back tonight and drop another 1.1 seconds was a lot of fun to watch and experience. We want to thank all the seniors for everything they’ve done for this program for the last four years. To have Maddie and Hunter finish things up on that relay was a tremendous way to finish their careers here at Duke.”
The Blue Devils featured two divers in action on the platform Saturday afternoon. Junior Jaina Gaudette competed in preliminaries for the second straight year, coming in 27th (239.45). Senior Mackenzie Willborn followed suit in 29th place (235.40) after also taking part in Thursday’s one-meter competition. Gaudette’s best dive of the day came in the second round, where she earned 52.20 points on a back 2 ½ somersault, while Willborn also had a strong second dive, garnering an award of 55.10 on a reverse 2 ½ somersault.
Head diving coach Nunzio Esposto’s group qualified a program record four divers on the women’s side to NCAAs.
Duke began the morning with a pair of top-30 finishes in the 100 freestyle preliminaries. Marsh was 22nd (48.39) and Pish 26th with the second-fastest clocking in program history at 48.63. Freshman Cabell Ann Whitlow wrapped up her meet with another best time, going 1:55.92 in the 200 butterfly preliminaries for 19th in the field and second on the Blue Devils’ all-time performance list. Junior Kylie Jordan stopped the clock at 1:59.45 for 47th in the same event.
Four Blue Devils head to Austin next week for the NCAA Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships, which get underway Wednesday. Divers Nathaniel Hernandez and Evan Moretti are qualified to compete on the one-meter, three-meter and platform while senior Max St. George received an NCAA invitation in the 100 backstroke and junior Miles Williams in the 100 freestyle.
Top Duke Finishers by Event:
100-Yard Freestyle: Alyssa Marsh (22nd), 48.39
200-Yard Butterfly: Cabell Ann Whitlow (19th), 1:55.92
Platform Diving: Jaina Gaudette (27th), 239.45
400-Yard Freestyle Relay: Melissa Pish, Maddie Hess, Hunter Aitchison, Alyssa Marsh (11th), 3:12.90
Honorable Mention All-America Honorees:
Hunter Aitchison – 200 Free Relay, 400 Free Relay, 200 Medley Relay
Maddie Hess – 200 Free Relay, 400 Free Relay, 200 Medley Relay
Shayna Hollander – 200 Free Relay
Kylie Jordan – 100 Fly
Alyssa Marsh – 50 Free, 100 Fly, 200 Free Relay, 400 Free Relay, 200 Medley Relay
Halle Morris – 200 Medley Relay
Melissa Pish – 400 Free Relay