Commentary by David Rieder
DURHAM, North Carolina, January 30. YANKEES-Red Sox. Lakers-Celtics. Manning-Brady. Nadal-Federer. Michigan-Ohio State. Phelps-Lochte. All are outstanding rivalries that bring out hoards of fans and cameras that any other regular game or race just wouldn’t draw. Some of these rivalries bring bitter feelings, like when Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster hit disgraced Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez this past season or when three players were ejected from the Michigan-Ohio State football game in November for throwing punches, while the individual rivalries on the list tend to be more respectful.
Still, all of these matchups bring intense motivation to beat one’s rivals, and all of these matchups result in hyped, intense competition each time out. However, I argue that the best rivalry in sports has been omitted from this list. That would be Duke-North Carolina. Two of the most successful college basketball programs in history battle it out twice (and sometimes three times) per year, all within the span of a month. At Duke, the “Cameron Crazies” line up outside in the cold for up to six weeks to get into the exclusive showdown.
Hoops matchups between the two schools are always highly anticipated and very competitive, even if one program is having a down year. But can’t that be said for any of the other rivalries as well? True, but Duke-UNC stirs the pot more than any others due to proximity. One could drive between the campuses in less than a half hour. Both Durham and Chapel Hill fall within the same Triangle Area that leaves fans of the two schools living alongside each other and employees at one school rooting for the other.
While known for basketball, the rivalry carries over into other sports as well. The two schools share a “Victory Bell” that goes to the winner of the annual football game. UNC previously won 14 in a row until 2012, but the resurgent Duke football program has won the last two, both in nail-biting fashion. In swimming, however, meets haven’t been tight for many years. UNC won last year’s dual meets by 40 points on both the men’s and women’s side, while at ACCs, the both Tar Heels teams finished third and the Blue Devils seventh, as UNC more than doubled Duke’s score in each meet.
The teams meet again on Saturday in an 11am meet at Duke. In the pool, the rivalry exists, but the swimmers say it doesn’t have the antagonistic undertone that they find in basketball. UNC senior Cari Blalock, a born-and-bred Carolina fan, says of the Duke team, “They’re nice competitors, and we have a very friendly rivalry.” She sees the “go to hell” mentality that fans of the two schools embrace to be separate from the pool. Still, that doesn’t mean she’s not excited to race the Blue Devils on Saturday.
“Their girls sprinters are very talented. They put together some awesome relays,” says Blalock. “I think we’re finally ready to put something up against them, and it’s going to be really interesting to see.” Indeed, Duke’s strength on the women’s side comes in the sprints, where freshman Maddie Rusch has joined NCAA Championships veteran Lauren Weaver to provide a strong 1-2 punch. Breaststroker Christine Wixted also swam at the NCAA Championships last year, and she aims for strong swims against the Tar Heels her last college dual meet.
Tar Heels senior Stephanie Peacock comes into Durham as one of the top distance swimmers in the country. She currently ranks second in the mile and fifth in the 500, and she won the NCAA title in the 1650 back in 2012 in an upset over Wendy Trott, seeking her fourth straight win in the event. Peacock ended up missing ACCs and NCAAs last year due to symptoms from a concussion, but she rebounded to win gold in the 1500 and silver in the 800 at World University Games this past summer. NCAA finalists Danielle Siverling (500 free) and Blalock (400 IM, 200 fly) should also star for the Tar Heels.
On the men’s side, sprinter Logan Heck and butterfly/IM specialist Dominick Glavich were key in leading the Tar Heels to a victory over Virginia last Saturday. Kurt Wohlrab took the win in the 100 breast at that meet, and he will be matched up with Duke senior Hunter Knight. Knight, the third-place finisher in the event at ACCs last year, has set two pool records in two appearances at Taishoff Aquatic Pavilion this year, and he hopes to better his 55.56 from Duke’s meet against Virginia on Friday.
Also for Duke, Olympic bronze medalist Nick McCrory dives in his final collegiate dual meet after an illustrious career for the Blue Devils. McCrory will aim for his fourth NCAA title in the 10-meter platform at the NCAA Championships in Austin this coming March, and he will be heavily favored to add to his collection of ACC honors when he heads to Greensboro in three weeks.
Duke and North Carolina have two very different swimming programs. In the CSCAA coaches’ poll, their women’s team is ranked ninth in the country, while the men were 16th before their win over Virginia at home last week. While far from the national rankings, Duke has had a successful season thus far, with its freshman class showing promise and the big news that the women’s program will soon receive full funding, jumping to 14 scholarships offered instead of just two. Still, rivalries always bring a little extra hype and adrenaline, even at a swim meet. On Saturday, they’ll be some special energy inside Taishoff.
In his addition to his contributing work for Swimming World, David Rieder is the public address announcer at Duke home swim meets.