Rowed trip on the Oregon Trail: Duke ships boats and rowers across countryThe Blue Devils depart for the West Coast Thursday afternoon, but their boats have been en route for nearly a week.
Duke will compete in three events at the Oregon State Classic Saturday at Dexter Lake in Lowell, Ore., against a slew of high-caliber competition. The Blue Devils will take on No. 2 Ohio State, No. 9 Michigan, No. 11 Stanford and host Oregon State in the varsity eight, second varsity eight and varsity four races.
Getting the boats to Oregon required some competitive collaboration.
"Boats usually go in our trailers and we drive them to and from regattas," Duke assistant coach Kathryn Hagglund said. "Since it's a cross-country trek this time, we were fortunate enough to be able to put our boats on Ohio State's trailer. Assistant coach Tracy Tallman and myself actually last week did the [918-mile round-trip] drive. We drove up to Ohio, put our boats on their trailer, and came back that evening. They're on their way right now, hopefully."
The Blue Devils were not alone in piling their gear on the Buckeyes' trailer, as the Wolverines also took advantage of the opportunity. The three schools will split the transportation costs between Columbus, Ohio and the race. Hagglund said Duke used similar ride-sharing when the Blue Devils traveled to San Diego last season for the San Diego Crew Classic.
Missing three racing shells has forced the team to adjust on the fly this week in practice at Lake Michie in Bahama, N.C., but hasn't affected the Blue Devils' preparation.
"We've been kind of mix-matching and shuffling equipment around a little bit this last week, just to make things work," Hagglund said. "It's way better than losing five days on the front end and five days on the back end, we're only losing six days total with our equipment. Our girls are still practicing on the lake, we're just kind of shifted in different boats that we have."
Duke enters the event, its third multi-team competition this spring, riding a wave of momentum. The last time out, the Blue Devils secured five top-three finishes in a six-team field at Clemson March 22 and have spent the two-week gap between races working to improve on the weaknesses of each individual boat.
"Say one boat needed to work on their finish sprint, so we'd make sure during that two-and-a-half weeks that we're working with that boat on how to increase speed during the sprint," Hagglund said. "Maybe another boat needs to work on their start or the body of the piece, just working to build that endurance per boat. I think as we get more into the season it mimics that kind of specificity to each haul and just making sure that a coach knows the strengths and weaknesses of each boat. We love having race after race after race... but the two-week gap is a great time to kind of just breathe, unwind and nail down those sections that we need to work on."
One way those improvements can be made is by juggling the lineup. Out of the 43 members on Duke's roster, only 23—20 rowers and three coxswains—will compete in Saturday's races, Rowers are shuffled from boat to boat all season long in an effort to make each boat as fast as possible. For a growing program like Duke's, now in its 16th year and with greater scholarship support on the way, those decisions are becoming more and more difficult.
"The more depth you have in a program, the more members, the more competitiveness you have inter-squad will create a much harder decision for the coaching staff," Hagglund said. "Some of those people shuffle each weekend, based on how they're progressing individually as an athlete throughout the season and how the boats blend in together. Typically we like to be as set as possible with our lineups and get good practices in with the people who will be racing in that hull [the week before]."
Facing stiff competition, the Blue Devils are looking to make a splash during the 2,000-meter races this weekend.
"We know going into it that we're going to be the underdogs," Hagglund said. They're not going to be afraid of us, so we want to make sure that we strike that fear in them when we're on the racecourse."