Winning is not everything. Yet.
Despite not coming away with a victory at the UVA Invite Saturday, Duke received a season-best performance from its third varsity eight boat as well as some major improvement against ranked opponents in the varsity eight. Facing off against No. 4 Virginia, No. 17 Syracuse and Michigan State, the Blue Devils pushed all three teams to the limit in their last meet before the ACC Championships.
"It was really beneficial to see two solid ACC teams before going into the postseason," junior P.J. Kolman said. "We are definitely humbled, but it puts things into perspective and we have a good grasp on what's waiting for us when we get to Clemson for ACCs. I think everyone feels ready to do whatever it takes to elevate in any way we can."
The third varsity eight broke the seven-minute mark for the first time all season in the second session against the Cavaliers, finishing in a time of 6:59.5, just sixth-tenths of a second behind the Virginia boat. In the weekend's first session, the third varsity eight had broken its previous season-best time with 7:08.7 against Syracuse, which won the race with a time of 6:59.0.
Unlike last weekend's regatta format at the Clemson Invite, where the Blue Devil boats were facing off against six boats at a time, Saturday's meet featured a dual format in which teams competed one-on-one.
Although the direct competition allows the boats to better gauge where they are in relation to first place, the larger format takes a little pressure off the rowers and allows for them to focus on only their boat.
"Going back to dual racing is a challenge in itself," varsity eight coxswain Carolina Kiristy said. "Our last race was six boats across, seven boats across sometimes, and today was just us and one other boat. In that sense, it's a little more mentally challenging."
With ACC Championships two weeks away, the Blue Devils can take with them the confidence that they can hold their own against a pair of top-20 teams and a Michigan State squad sitting just outside the rankings.
"We're hoping to keep improving with that same momentum through the next few weeks and get some practices together and continuity in the boat under our belt and have a blast at ACCs," sophomore Lauren Miranda said.
The Blue Devils may have been taking on Syracuse for the first time as a conference foe, but Saturday's matchup between the two was more familiar thanks to an offseason staff change.
Jim Lister, now an assistant coach for the Orange, had spent his previous 10 years coaching at Duke. Saturday's meet was the first time he has faced his former team. For the Blue Devils, seeing Lister was a nice reunion, but once the boats hit the water it was business as usual.
"Jim has always been a mentor to me and a fantastic coach, and it was great to see him," Kiristy said. "But other than that, we were just racing another boat. At the start line, it doesn't really matter who it is next to you. What it comes down to is who crosses the finish line first."
Duke will have the next two weeks off to focus on final exams and graduation ceremonies before heading to Clemson, S.C., to take part in the ACC Championships.