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Rowing glides past UNC, garners Carlyle Cup point

CHAPEL HILL -- It was more than just another Carlyle Cup point--this year it was domination.

The Duke rowing team opened its spring season with a bang, as the Blue Devils lost only one heat to the Tar Heels at North Carolina's own Carolina Dash.

Improving on last year's sweep of the varsity-eight and novice-four races, Duke continued to show the strength of its program by winning the novice and junior varsity 8+ races for the first time Saturday at University Lake.

"I expected the varsity boat to do very well so I think that they raced to our expectations," coach Robyn Horner said. "The highlight of the day for me was seeing the second varsity eight and novice eight do so well."

While the varsity eight bested the Tar Heels by at least five seconds in each heat, it was the junior varsity's four-second cushion that surprised the Blue Devils. The second varsity-eight boat had never beaten North Carolina before, always falling short on the sprint-oriented course.

"We always go out and make a really good showing here, but we've really made an effort to step it up this year," said junior varsity coxswain Jessica Batzell, a junior. "I think going out there, and if not sweeping, then dominating in every single race really means a lot to our team. My boat had not won a single race at North Carolina in the past and we swept this time. It's totally indicative of where the program is going."

Besides merely winning, though, the second varsity 8+ set a personal best on the course with a 3:29.9 mark in the first heat. Although the varsity eight's time was far superior, at 3:18.9, it was the junior varsity's ability to post similar times in the second and third heats that caused the most comment.

"The second varsity eight posted a record-setting time on that course and also had great repeatability from piece to piece," Horner said. "The speed of the second varsity eight is a definite signal that our program speed is increasing."

Due to the shortened course--1,000 meters instead of the usual 2,000--at University Lake, the Tobacco Road rivals raced the Dash's usual format: best two-out-of-three, 1,000-meter heats. In earlier years, Duke struggled to translate its endurance into the sprint speed required to come out on top at University Lake. Last year, however, the Blue Devil varsity flexed its muscle to help Duke to its first Carlyle Cup victory.

This season, Duke's only loss of the morning came in the last heat of the novice-four race. With victory already assured after its win in the first two heats with a blistering 10-second lead in the first and a two-second cushion in the second, Duke watched North Carolina sneak past with a two-and-a-half- second win.

"The Carolina Dash is a great early race to test our speed and identify areas that we still need to work on." Horner said. "Our next focus is to get ourselves ready for the Louisville race and see if we can post the same speed over a full 2000-meter course."

The crew next takes on Louisville in Gainesville, Ga., March 16.

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