When Duke hits the waters of Lake Monticello Saturday, it will be looking to make history.
Coming off a strong performance at the Clemson Invite, the Blue Devils will shrink their opposing field fivefold when they head to Charlottesville, Va., to take part in the UVA Invite. The regatta will consist of Duke, Virginia, Michigan State and Syracuse. And with the Orange lining up beside them in the the water for the first time as ACC foes come Saturday, the Blue Devils will be poised to have their best meet of the season.
"This year we have a very good group of girls who have worked very hard to get where we are right now," sophomore Katie Dukovich said. "We struggled in the beginning but it seems like we're getting our [stuff] together now."
After struggling on the first day at the Clemson Invite, head coach Robyn Horner decided to switch up the lineups and saw success with the changes, as the Blue Devils dropped close to a minute off some of their times. This is something that the team was able to adapt to thanks to the bond the squad formed throughout the year, Dukovich said.
"We're closer than ever before," she said. "[Horner] has changed the lineups around and we seem to have better results with that."
Throughout the year, Duke has used Syracuse as its measuring stick. The Orange's splits, end times and top finishes have all been kept in sight, as the Blue Devils have sought to match and better these marks. But the competition goes deeper than just time comparison.
This weekend will provide Duke with its first opportunity of the season to line up against the Orange and show off its season’s work. A victory against Syracuse—which is ranked 17th in the nation—would certainly get the Blue Devils fired up as they head toward postseason competition.
The battle against Syracuse will not be as fierce as it seems, as former Duke assistant coach Jim Lister left Durham after being on the Blue staff for 10 years to take a position on the Orange coaching staff. Lister's presence will make for an interesting mix of emotions, but ultimately the Blue Devils will be looking to beat his new squad come Saturday.
"[Lister] went over to Syracuse and he was a really good guy," Dukovich said. "So we like Syracuse but also hate them because they're above us in the polls. We hope that we can take down their top boats."
The UVA Invite is the Blue Devils' final meet prior to the ACC Championships. A strong performance this weekend could go a long way in carving Duke’s path to its first NCAA Championship appearance.
But those dreams will be temporarily put on hold following the race this weekend, as the Blue Devils will get a week to rest and take care of final exams before they have to worry about postseason action.