Robyn Horner was the only head coach the Blue Devils had ever known. Since the program’s inception in 1998, Horner had been at the helm, building Duke’s presence on the water from scratch.
But Horner’s retirement in late May brought the opening chapter of Blue Devil rowing to a close, and new head coach Megan Cooke Carcagno is preparing to build on that foundation. A two-time All-American at California, Cooke Carcagno has high expectations for what the Duke program can become in the near future.
“I want to take this team to the NCAA championships. I want to be one of the top six teams in the country within the next few years here,” she said. “It’s not going to be easy. No one ever said it was going to be easy, but that’s where our sights are set.”
Cooke Carcagno was announced as Horner’s successor July 28 after seven years on the coaching staff at Wisconsin, where the Badgers were a perennial presence at the NCAA championship and finished the 2015 season ranked 12th in the country. She inherits a Blue Devil program that has 12 top-three finishes at the ACC championship in 17 seasons of competition but has never made the NCAA championship.
With a smaller roster at Duke—not even considering the more than 100 walk-ons who audition each fall at Wisconsin—the more intimate environment will enable Cooke Carcagno to connect on a more personal level with each athlete.
Another big advantage to taking charge of the program in Durham will be the opportunity to train year-round on the water. The Badgers were often kept out of their boats from mid-November until early April due to the frigid Wisconsin winters.
“That’s over five months—that’s a long time when your sport’s season championship is mid-May,” said Cooke Carcagno, who anticipates that Duke will spend five days on the water and one day on land each week. “The other side of that coin is the women at Wisconsin were able to go to the NCAA championship year after year because of the training that they did. That’s a true testament to how good you can be if you put in the work, and they were able to put in the work on land and be fast and good enough to get those bids every year, which is no small feat.”
Cooke Carcagno has yet to bring in her first recruiting class at Duke, but she hit the recruiting trail hard to fill out her coaching staff, and did not come back empty-handed.
Former Ohio State assistant coach Chuck Rodosky joined the staff in early August after six seasons with the Buckeyes, where he won three national championships. A few weeks later, Chase Graham came onboard following a successful 2015 campaign with the Saugatuck Rowing Club in Westport, Conn. Graham’s varsity 8 went undefeated, claiming victories at the Head of the Charles, San Diego Crew Classic and Youth National Championship.
“I wasn’t looking for people who have done the job for a million years. I wasn’t looking for the highest experience level,” Cooke Carcagno said. “I was looking for people who were used to winning. That was the number one goal for me, and what I think this program needs is people who are planning on winning all the time.”
The Blue Devils will ease into their fall schedule in order to give the team time to get accustomed to the new coaching staff, not competing until Nov. 1 at the Princeton Chase.
“The overriding theme that I’ve sensed since I’ve been here, reaching from the captains all the way down to the freshmen, has been excitement,” Cooke Carcagno said. “It’s hard to not get excited after listening to [Duke vice president and director of athletics Kevin White] speak. I’m going to have to figure out a way to call him down to all my team meetings.”