After surging through the spring race circuit, the Blue Devils needed a stellar performance in the ACC championship to secure a berth in the NCAA tournament.

Although Duke finished in the top three of its conference, the fate of the Blue Devils remains unclear.

No. 18 Duke took third with 72 points in the ACC championship Sunday in Clemson, S.C., at Lake Hartwell. Although the Blue Devils remained competitive against No. 7 Virginia and No. 17 Notre Dame—the Cavaliers took first with 99 points and the Fighting Irish finished fourth with 69—a surging Syracuse squad knocked Duke down in all V8 races to secure second place, leaving a deeper postseason berth in question.

“I'm really proud of our team,” Blue Devil head coach Megan Cooke Carcagno said. “I think we did a really good job as a team. It feels like it might have been a step back from our top-end speeds from what we wanted in our goals, but from a team's growth perspective, I really couldn't be happier.”

The Blue Devils started the day roaring through the preliminary heats, making program history by qualifying all five boats for the tournament Grand Final. Highlighting these early results were both V4s, with the all-freshmen 1V4 of Leeloo Gilet, Laura Navarrete, Katherine Lustig, Maya Blake and Anne Klok taking first in their heat with a time of 7:18.01, while the 2V4 of sophomore Rani Duff, freshmen Bailey Knight and Reed Kenny, senior Alexa Campbell and junior Anna Jenkins closed out their heat on top with a time of 7:24.50.

Duke’s 3V8 of sophomores Anna Power Jestin, Grace Garverick and Bella Miller, freshmen Catherine Dana, Sarah Hubner, Sydney Cikovic, Caroline Olsen and Savannah Herbek and junior Margot Calmar kicked off the finals with a tight race against the Orange and Notre Dame. Although Virginia took the race with ease—finishing nine seconds ahead of its closest competition—the Blue Devils came just two seconds behind Syracuse and one second ahead of the Fighting Irish with a time of 6:43.07, good for third place.

The Cavaliers continued to dominate through the V4 finals, taking first in both events by healthy three- and six-second margins. However, Duke remained competitive in battling to secure a top-three finish. Although the Fighting Irish took second in the 2V4 by a four-second margin ahead the Blue Devils, Duke flipped the script in the 1V4 race in taking second with a time of 7:12.87—three seconds ahead of Notre Dame.

“Our four group and our 2V8 group—that's the youth of our program,” Cooke Carcagno said. “That's the freshmen and a couple sophomores in there, and that's the direction the program is headed and an indication of the future speed of our team…. I feel very encouraged about where our team is going to head.”

Although the Blue Devils medaled through the opening four races of the finals, Duke struggled to close out the day with their V8s.

The Blue Devils' 2V8 of sophomores Tara Fagan, Kiernan Spencer and Madison Brown, juniors Rhea Bergman and Marissa Donadio, freshman Ema Kuczura and seniors Abby Artmann, Taji Phillips and Tara Christensen took fourth with a time of 6:37.91. Duke came in just behind the Fighting Irish, but the Orange blew the Blue Devils out by a nine-second margin.

In the closest final of the day, Duke’s 1V8 of seniors Meagan Lew, Katherine Maitland and Sarah Fletcher, sophomores Lelia Boley and Olivia Mendonca, freshmen Olivia Hunt and Caitlyn Carlisle and juniors Shannon Tierney and Isabel Ruby-Hill took fourth with a time of 6:26.43. Although the Cavaliers finished seven seconds ahead in first place, the Blue Devils were just one second behind Louisville while just barely holding off the Fighting Irish—who finished the race with a time of 6:26.96.

“Both [V8s] did a good job on finals day,” Cooke Carcagno said. “We didn't knock it out of the park, but we did a respectable job. We held our stuff together and we raced well, and I'm really proud of the seniors in those boats—they raced well. They did a really good job leading their teams and their teammates, but we didn't quite get it.”

Without securing a conference championship bid, Duke now awaits its fate in the NCAA selection show, which takes place Tuesday at 5 p.m. 

“Everyone is coming into their own terms a little bit in terms of what the weekend meant for them and where do we go as a team and a program,” Cooke Carcagno said. “I don't think there's anyone on our team that's disappointed in how things turned out. I do think that especially from our seniors there's a little sadness and a little bit of emotion...but I think everyone's in a good spot.”