It wasn't enough that Duke garnered its first-ever national ranking two weeks ago.
It wasn't enough that the Blue Devils brought the San Diego Crew Classic's Cal Cup home to Durham for the first time in program history.
And it certainly wasn't enough that Duke's varsity eight posted its fastest time ever at Lake Hartwell Saturday.
The No. 17 Blue Devils went to the ACC Championships in Clemson, S.C., with something to prove.
Stunning perennial rival Clemson, Duke's varsity-four boat sprinted past the Tigers to help the Blue Devils to second place in both the race and the ACC.
"For the varsity four to beat Clemson was huge," coach Robyn Horner said. "The coaching staff was hoping that would happen, but the other teams weren't expecting it, so it was a treat."
Besides being a treat, though, the varsity four's seven-second victory over Clemson gave Duke the cushion it needed for its highest-ever finish in the conference championship.
"The varsity four had a great performance," All-ACC rower Katie Lakin said. "They were very strong and commanding."
While Virginia won all four races and finished first overall for the third straight year with 40 points, making the battle for the runner-up trophy the most hard-fought of the day. On the back of the Blue Devils' varsity-four and varsity-eight second-place finishes, Duke edged out the Tigers by only two points with 26.
"It was huge for us," Horner said. "We'd never beaten [Clemson] before at ACCs and the varsity eight had never beaten them before in a sprint race."
Horner had much to celebrate, though, besides Duke's win over the Tigers. The Blue Devils set a new school record in the varsity-eight race, with a time of 6:36.1. The boat not only set a new personal best, but also came within striking distance of Virginia. The Cavaliers won the race by a slim five-second margin, compared to its 12-second cushion over Duke last year.
"The race was very important to us," Lakin said. "Not only were we racing the people closest to us, but we moved up on Virginia this year. We never thought before that we could take Virginia, but it was definitely within our grasp."
The other coaches noticed Duke's vast improvement this season and named Horner ACC coach of the year. Lakin and fellow junior Joanna Hingle were named to the All-ACC team. The announcement marked Hingle's second straight ACC honor.
The sweetest victory of the day, though, was Duke's dominance over Clemson in the big races--the varsity four and eight. The Blue Devils came to Lake Hartwell with something to prove and left with their point made.
"Our first year at ACCs we finished fourth, then third, now second," Horner said. "We see a pattern, and eventually we want to go after after Virginia and get to the top of the ACC."
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