The Blue Devils competed at NCAAs in May for the first time in program history. 

The Chronicle's top 10 of 2016: Duke rowing makes first-ever NCAA championship

With the end of 2016 quickly approaching, The Chronicle's sports department takes a look back at the biggest sports stories of the year. Each day, The Blue Zone will review a major game, event or storyline that helped shape the course of the year in Blue Devil athletics.

Coming in at No. 10 on our list: The Duke rowing team making its first-ever appearance at the NCAA championship.

After 18 seasons, the Blue Devils punched their ticket to the team’s first-ever NCAA championship in May following a second-place finish at the ACC championship behind No. 5 Virginia. 

The Blue Devils’ at-large bid to the event signaled an enormous step forward for the program led by first-year head coach Megan Cooke Cargano.

"No one expected Duke to be there and we get to go out and prove that we’re there for a reason," senior Alex Stonehill said of the Blue Devils' appearance at NCAAs. "We’re not going to go there and flop."

Despite failing to make the A and B finals in any boat, the team finished the championship strong with Sunday wins by both the V4 and the 2V8 in the C Finals to clinch 13th place. 

"Those were really clutch performances from those guys, and I'm really proud of how they raced," Cooke Carcagno said. "There's a ton of underclassmen in there, and those boats are only going to get better as the years go by."

Not everything went smoothly for the team on Sunday, however. 

The Blue Devils' V8 struggled to a last place finish in its C Finals race to clinch 18th. Cooke Carcagno attributed this in part to another team breaking equipment on the water, which kept the team on the lake for an extremely long period of time.

"Moving forward that's an experience we have to handle a little bit better if we want to race with the top programs in the country," Cooke Carcagno said.

The Blue Devils finished 17th as a team, well behind ACC rival Virginia in third. 

However, the future looks very bright for Duke's rowing program.

"I'm just really proud of our team," Cooke Carcagno said. "Every boat took a different journey to get here, but overall Duke is light years away from where it was 365 days ago, and I'm really excited to think what the next year is going to bring for our team."

This season, the team hopes to build on last season’s success while looking to replace first-team All-ACC V8 performers Stonehill and Katie Dukovic.

Although this year’s team is especially young, with more than half the roster consisting of freshmen and sophomores, Cooke Carcagno has seen improvement.

“Fall is getting stronger with everything,” Cooke Carcagno said. “[There’s] no moving backwards with what we’ve accomplished. Team goals since the beginning of the year remain the same: being a top 10 team, getting another bid to NCAA… and doing all this with zero negativity.”

READ MORE on the rowing team’s season:

Duke rowing earns first-ever bid to NCAA championship

Duke rowing set for first NCAA championship appearance ever

17th-place finish at NCAA championship caps off historic season for Duke rowing 

Duke rowing shows progress coming off NCAA championship appearance at Princeton Chase

Duke rowing 'all systems go' coming off first NCAA championship appearance

Check back tomorrow to see what comes in at No. 9 in our countdown of the top Duke sports stories of 2016.

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