The Duke-North Carolina rivalry in swimming isn’t quite as heated as the one we see in basketball, but in recent years, the series has become way more competitive. The UNC women have a 44-4 all-time record in the series, while the UNC men have an 82-5 all-time record in the series.
A nail-biter meet on the women’s side did up the stakes on Friday in Durham. This is more the norm in recent history than an exception though – before an 80-point drubbing last season, the Duke women won two straight competitive dual meets.
On Friday, the UNC Tar Heels won both the men’s and women’s meets, topping the men’s side 168-132 and the women’s meet 154-146.
This year’s meet was much closer than the 190-110 drubbing that UNC put on Duke in last year’s dual meet.
Both teams posted season bests and NCAA qualifying times on the women’s side of the pool, with a few lifetime bests falling as well.
The women’s meet came down to the final relay. The Duke women held a 5-point lead going into that relay, but that wasn’t ever going to be enough. The UNC women finished 1-2 in that relay, with Grace Countie splitting 48.32 to anchor the “A” to a time of 3:16.61 for the win for the Tar Heels. Duke needed a 2-3 finish to hold on to a tie, but UNC’s “B” came through 2nd in 3:20.40.
Duke’s top relay placed 3rd in 3:24.09.
For UNC, this meet was a tuneup before their big-time showdown against the #4 Texas Longhorns on Saturday.
UNC won only 6 out of 14 individual events, but the whopping swings driven by 1-2 finishes in both relays (a combined 30-4 scoring advantage) was enough for the Tar Heels to take the victory over a Duke team that is deep in individual events.
After the North Carolina women won the opening 200 medley relay, Duke took early control of the meet, winning three of the first four individual events. That includes back-to-back wins in the brutal, but common, dual meet double of the 1000 and 200 free. Freshman Yixuan Chang won the 1000 in 10:02.17, holding off a late charge from teammate Catherine Purnell in the last 50. Duke went 1-2-3 in that event.
Chang came back in the very next women’s race to top the 200 free to post a new personal best time of 1:47.01, this time overcoming a big deficit in the final 50 to take the win. She split her race 25.2-27.3-27.7-26.6, closing in a 50 split that was over a second faster than the race’s runner-up Sophie Lindner of UNC (1:47.48).
Chang would later win the 500 free in 4:50.29 for three individual victories in the meet.
UNC’s Countie won the 100 back in 52.51 to halt the Blue Devil momentum for a moment, but Sarah Foley had arguably the swim of the meet in the next race, the 100 breaststroke.
She swam 59.62 in the 100 breaststroke to win by more than two seconds. Not only did that score 9 big points for Duke, it broke the Duke School Record. The old record of 59.95 was set in 2013 by former Duke All-American Christine Wixted.
The time was a surprise given that in her last meet two weeks ago, she was just 1:02.51. Even at the team’s mid-season invite, she was only 1:00.41. Her previous lifetime best was a 1:00.36 from the 2021 ACC Championships, where she placed 10th.
In the last three seasons, it took between 59.9 and 1:00.1 to earn an invite to the NCAA Championships, and her swim on Friday was well under that time.
After that, UNC took control of the meet, winning the next three races. Ellie VanNote won the 200 fly in 1:57.29, a new season-best time for her; Heidi Lowe won the 50 free in 22.91; and Grace Countie won the 100 free in a season-best of 48.41.
That time for Countie ranks her now as the 4th-best swimmer in the ACC so far this season.
The sweep of the sprint races by UNC, including Countie’s dominant 100, countered Duke’s success in the distance events, and the battle was on. Duke knew they would need a lead going into that closing relay to have a chance to hold on to the meet.
The team’s traded races after that. Lindner added a 200 back win to her earlier runner-up finish in the 200 free, posting a time of 1:53.84. Both swims were season-bests for her: over two seconds faster than she swam at the team’s mid-season invite.
Lindner was part of a group of swimmers who missed last year’s ACC Championships after a COVID outbreak within the team, but like several of her teammates, her times this weekend will now qualify her for NCAAs even if disaster strikes again in February.
Foley came back to win the next race, the 200 breast, in 2:10.76 (which, interestingly, was more than two seconds slower than her personal best).
After Chang’s win in the 500, VanNote finished a butterfly sweep with a time of 52.66 in the 100 yard race. Then it was back to Foley for her third individual win, again dominating for a 1:57.10 in the 200 IM.
But even a Duke 1-2-3 finish in the 200 IM, the last individual event of the meet left them only 5 points ahead, which as previously mentioned, wasn’t quite enough.
The teams split the victories in diving, with Duke’s Margo Omeara leading a 1-3-4-5 finish for her team on the 1-meter, and UNC Olympian Aranza Vazquez leading a 1-2 finish for the Tar Heels on 3-meter.
The UNC men were dominant in the meet wire-to-wire, taking 12 out of 16 events.
It was a true team effort for the Tar Heels – out of their 10 individual wins, there was only one double individual winner. Those wins came from sophomore Boyd Poelke, who won the 100 fly in 46.74 and the 200 fly in 1:46.81.
His 100 fly time was less than a tenth off his time from the team’s mid-season invite.
Poelke had a similar pattern last season, though he was even a bit faster (47.00) in his best event, the 100 fly, on Friday than he was a year earlier when UNC and Duke faced off. Last season ended with an NCAA qualification.
Another highlight for the Tar Heels was Patrick Hussey. He started his meet off by winning the 1000 free in a new lifetime best of 9:10.55. That’s a new personal best time for the sophomore from Quebec. He finished 10th at last year’s ACC Championship meet in the 1650 free.
He also swam a best time to place 2nd in the 200 IM in 1:49.46 and 4th in the 500 free in 4:35.37.
He was one of a number of UNC winners who went season bests, at least. That includes Tomas Sungalia, who swam a season best of 1:36.00 to win the 200 free; Dylan Citta, who won the 100 breast in a personal best time of 54.40; Nick Radkov, who won the 100 free in a personal best time of 44.51; and Aidan Crisci, who won the 500 free in a personal best time of 4:52.29.
Among Duke’s wins were a win in the 50 free from junior Bradley Sanford. Sanford started his college career at Michigan State, but transferred to Duke after Michigan State cut its swimming & diving team.
He’s already making new progress at Duke: his 20.15 to win the 50 free is a new lifetime best, clearing the 20.28 that he swam at last year’s Big Ten Championships.
While his 100 free wasn’t a personal (or lifetime) best, that time represents the team’s fastest this season at any meet.
He then anchored the Duke men’s 400 free relay in 43.63, leading a quartet of Coleman Kredich (44.90), Charlie Gingrich (44.03), and Zachary McIntyre (43.53) to a time of 2:56.09. That’s only .9 seconds slower than their season-best.
That beat out UNC’s 2:56.30. They were anchored by freshman Nick Radkov, who split 43.29. He won the individual event in 44.51.
UNC was dominant in the lanes, but also dominated the boards. Tokyo 2020 Olympic finalist Anton Down-Jenkins won the 1-meter and 3-meter, with his teammate Alexander Hart finishing 2nd in both events.
Congrats Sarah Foley!
UNC going in the right direction. 👍🏻