With the Blue Devils heading into the heart of race season, Duke had a chance to make a statement against some of the nation’s fastest teams—and it capitalized on the opportunity.

The Blue Devils took seventh with 85 points this weekend at the Clemson Invitational on Lake Hartwell. In a field stacked with eight ranked teams and six others receiving votes—including No. 4 Ohio State and No. 9 Virginia—Duke showed that it had the speed and the endurance to hang with the NCAA’s best. The Buckeyes ultimately dominated the competition with 130 points, followed by the Cavaliers with 124.

“It was a really great start for our first big race of the year,” Duke head coach Megan Cooke Carcagno said. “We always intended to finish as high as we can, but I think the race really showed us some places where we need to work harder on with our program and I think it was a really good first outing.”

The Blue Devils opened competition Friday with strong performances across the board, with the original dates of Saturday and Sunday moved back to Friday and Saturday due to poor weather.

Duke’s 2V4 of sophomore Rani Duff, juniors Marissa Donadio and Anna Jenkins, freshman Bailey Knight and senior Alexa Campbell trailed only Ohio State with a time of 7:16.26—just five seconds behind the Buckeyes and two seconds ahead of No. 17 Inidiana. The Blue Devils' 1V4 of freshmen Leeloo Gilet, Laura Navarrete and Anne Klok and sophomores Madison Brown and Kiernan Spencer also clocked in a solid time of 7:16.32. Although Duke knocked off other teams close to the rankings, the Blue Devils fell behind No. 12 Wisconsin and the Hoosiers in the race.

Duke’s 1V8 of seniors Meagan Lew, Katherine Maitland and Sarah Fletcher, sophomores Lelia Boley and Olivia Mendonca, juniors Shannon Tierney and Isabel Ruby-Hill and freshmen Caitlyn Carlisle and Olivia Hunt put up a fierce fight in its opening race. Although the Blue Devils came just four seconds short of the Badgers at 6:27.23, Duke took down the Hoosiers by less than a second. 

Duke's 3V8 opened the competition with a time of 6:44.16—just two seconds ahead of No. 20 Oklahoma and seven behind No. 15 Washington State—and the Blue Devils' 2V8 struggled against ranked competition, falling to Wisconsin, Indiana and Oregon State with a time of 6:40.07 and barely holding off Northeastern and Louisville.

“The races were supposed to be Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, Sunday and actually they moved it to Friday afternoon, Saturday morning, Saturday evening, so I think our team handled it really well,” Cooke Carcagno said. “No Coach likes to change it last minute, but overall our team handled it really well. We were more prepared to go Saturday-Sunday but we had to go Friday-Saturday, but I think we handled it pretty well.”

On the second day of action, four of Duke’s five boats secured A final appearances, where they were put to head-to-head with the best boats on the lake.

Yet again, the Blue Devil 2V4 shined, outpacing Indiana, No. 18 Syracuse, Clemson and Louisville for a 7:19.46 third-place finish. Duke came up just short of the Cavaliers by three seconds and clocked in eight seconds behind Ohio State. Although the Blue Devils' 1V4 could not penetrate a stacked field with five ranked teams taking first through fifth, they came two seconds behind Wisconsin for a 7:14.31 sixth-place finish ahead of UCLA at 7:17.95.

Duke’s 1V8 and 3V8 put in strong performances in the opening flights of the day to secure spots in their A finals, but neither of the Blue Devils’ largest boats could out pace their competition to close the weekend. Duke’s 3V8 ended up in seventh, three seconds behind the Orange and 15 seconds behind the first-place Buckeyes. The Blue Devils’ 1V8 came a heartbreaking 0.53 seconds from knocking off Washington State, finishing seventh with a time of 6:21.88.

Duke’s 2V8 continued to struggle through the afternoon and took sixth in the B final with a time of 6:36.67, coming up short against the likes of Minnesota, Clemson, Northeastern and Oregon State.

“We need to do a lot of work on our 2V8 and restructure that a little bit and get those girls going,” Cooke Carcagno said. “We have great leaders in that boat and we have great athletes, so they're going to rise to the occasion. Our varsity 8 is doing a really great job of just finding new gears every week—that's a fast boat—and I look forward to seeing them race.”

The Blue Devils will have another chance to face off against some of the fastest boats in the nation on April 21, when they will race Ohio State and No. 16 Michigan State for a double dual.

“We're always looking to find inches here and there,” Cooke Carcagno said. “All five of our boat classes I expect to do really well and measure ourselves to one of the best boat teams in the country and also get a chance to take off one of the teams that is nationally-ranked.”