Often times, sports teams use the cliché, "We're going to give it our best," prior to a big game or tournament. This weekend, Duke followed through on that saying in its last race of the season.
The Blue Devils finished fifth overall at the ACC Championships by turning in two season-best times in the varsity four and varsity eight boats, with the V4 taking third place in Saturday's final. After adding No. 10 Notre Dame and No. 18 Syracuse to the conference in the offseason, this weekend marked the first time in history that the ACC switched to a two-day, heat-final format.
All three teams that competed both Friday and Saturday—V8, V4 and second V8—significantly reduced their times in the finals. The V8 dropped the most with a reduction of 0:18.8 for a season-best time of 6:37.5. The V4 was right behind them in dropped time, posting a 7:35.7 Saturday, 0:17.2 faster than Friday's time.
"My best moment of my Duke experience is probably today," senior Allison Beattie said following Saturday's races. "I always do the varsity four, and we just had a really solid race. The heat and the final—both were really well-executed. I felt like we were able to not only perform to our best abilities but were able outperform others that probably, on paper, should have been faster."
The combination of three ranked teams—No. 5 Virginia being the highest-ranked—competing in the meet along with the event being most teams' final races meant every team was gunning for a top finish in the conference tournament. The Cavaliers emerged victorious to claim their fifth-straight ACC Title.
The Blue Devils planned to finish their season by following through on season-long goals to take down both Syracuse and Clemson and by improving their times for every boat. Although the squad found itself fifth behind the Orange and the Tigers—who finished third and fourth, respectively—the weekend did bring Duke its fastest times of the season.
"To be there and have a really good final was really great," Beattie said. "All of our boats had really good races, so we're really pleased with how the season ended, especially because with the additions we've had to the ACC—Notre Dame and Syracuse—it made our conference [more] competitive than it was before. So it's good to still have a positive showing and end on a high note."
This weekend's meet was also significant for reasons larger than Duke's immediate results. For five seniors—Beattie, along with Elizabeth Howell, Caroline Kiristy, Grace Cassidy and Emily Hyland—it would be the last time they donned their Duke uniforms and rowed as Blue Devils. Although emotions were running high Saturday, Kiristy felt as though her boat, the V8, handled the circumstances well.
"For everybody, it has that elevated sense of emotion," she said. "It's everybody's last race of the season, and everybody has put in so much work through all of our practices and trainings and races. So it's emotional for everybody. Obviously it's at a higher level for the seniors who don't know if they're going to row again, but I think they balanced it well."
But Kiristy knows this is not the end of the road for her or her classmates. After dedicating nine-plus years to the sport, she is not ruling out the continuation of her crew career or a possible coaching venture. For now, she's just happy with her career as a Blue Devil.
"If rowing pops up in the future, I'd consider it," Kiristy said. "There's masters rowing and then there's also coaching as a route I could take if I want to stay involved with rowing. I don't have anything planned for rowing immediately, but I can't imagine it not being a part of my life, so we'll see."