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Duke rowing opens Cooke Carcagno era at Princeton Chase

<p>The Blue Devils will get their first look at high-quality competition this morning Sunday morning at the Princeton Chase.</p>

The Blue Devils will get their first look at high-quality competition this morning Sunday morning at the Princeton Chase.

Looking for a fast start to the Megan Cooke Carcagno era, the Blue Devils will face some of the best teams in the country in their first competition of the year.

Duke travels to Princeton, N.J., for the Princeton Chase Sunday morning on Lake Carnegie to kick off its season. The Blue Devils have three boats to compete in the varsity women’s open division in Cooke Carcagno’s first race as head coach after the retirement of Robyn Horner, who had led the team since its inception in 1998.

“I want them just to bring their best selves on Sunday," Cooke Carcagno said. "They’ve been working really hard and learning a ton each day, so I want them to put everything we’ve been working on together on one day and have a great race.”

The race is the first action for Duke since the team’s seventh-place finish in the ACC tournament in May and the first time Cooke Carcagno’s new team dynamic will be on display across the three-mile chase. 

“We’ve been doing a lot of individual work and meetings this week," Cooke Carcagno said. "[We're] trying to peel back the layers, trying to get the heart of each member of this team, why they’re here and why they’re doing it."

This weekend pits the Blue Devils against the winners of last year's Princeton Chase—a Brown squad that ended last season ranked atop the polls—and another four of last season’s top 20 teams. After ending last year unranked, Duke is searching for a successful start to climb the standings and begin building to a point where the Blue Devils can capture the program's first championship.

“We’re really looking to push to be in the top six teams in the country. We understand that’s a process, that it’s going to take some time but I think that the work, attitude and the culture of the team is different already,” Cooke Carcagno said. “I’m looking to push this team as far as I can take them and I know that the assistant coaches and I are putting our sights on winning the whole thing. It’s going to take the right culture and the right athletes.”

Cooke Carcagno’s five years of experience as the freshman coach at Wisconsin appear evident in this year’s recruiting class, as the Blue Devils' 13 first-years make them the most represented class on the team. But with a new head coach and a large group of new athletes, Duke will rely heavily on veteran leadership to guide them through a long season.

“I cannot thank our captains enough. Lauren Miranda and Simone Pitre, our coxswain, have been carrying the team since June and their hard work is evident,” Cooke Carcagno said. “We have two leaders in our top boat, Katherine Maitland and Jessica Findlay, who are leading by example.”

The transition from one regime to another can be choppy, but Duke appears poised for a smooth transition. Four months of preseason training have made the unit more cohesive and hardworking, results Cooke Carcagno said already give her confidence heading into the season.

“Stepping into this position, I thought there would be way more resistance and more pushback but there isn’t," she said. "Everyone is ready to go and everyone is doing the work. They’re not just talking the talk.”