The Blue Devils entered the weekend wanting to make a final push toward their first NCAA championship berth and did just that, coming away with one of their best performances of the season.
No. 19 Duke tied its best finish ever by placing second at the ACC championship on Lake Hartwell in Clemson, S.C., Friday and Saturday, besting No. 16 Syracuse in a tiebreaker. The Blue Devils took second in the V8, 2V8 and V4 races—the three that count for the NCAA championship—behind No. 5 Virginia, which swept every event for the second year in a row and won its seventh consecutive conference title.
“As a team, everybody stepped up majorly and did their job today,” Duke head coach Megan Cooke Carcagno—who was named ACC Coach of the Year—said. “I mean that from the coaching staff to the trainers to all four boats that raced today. Every single boat, coach and trainer performed at their absolute best today.”
Duke kicked the day off with a photo finish in the V8 after entering the race as the No. 5 seed. Virginia rang in first at 614.99, more than five seconds ahead of the second-place Blue Devils. From there, only the length of the bow separated Duke and Syracuse—the difference between the two was an infinitesimal .041 seconds.
The win against the Orange proved to be critical for the Blue Devils, as it broke the tie between the two teams in the final standings.
The 2V8 race was similar to the V8 race, with Virginia winning by nearly seven full seconds and Duke narrowly outpacing No. 15 Notre Dame's boat by an even slimmer margin of .004 seconds. The Blue Devils' 2V8 also outperformed its seed after opening in the the No. 3 spot.
“We made a few changes in the last week and almost reversed the entire order of the boat from when we were at Princeton,” Cooke Carcagno said of the V8. “I would have been happy with a third-place finish, but I was overcome with joy when they came in second. It was a testament to the people in that boat and the heart they all have.”
Throughout the year, the V4 had been Duke’s most successful boat, winning races against teams from the Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC, as well as coming close to defeating top-10 opponents Virginia and Princeton during the regular season.
It showed again this weekend, as the Blue Devils finished more than six seconds behind the Cavaliers but cleared the Orange by .62 seconds to claim second place.
Duke rounded out the event by besting North Carolina in the 3V8 petite final, finishing more than 10 seconds ahead of the Tar Heels.
The Blue Devils' strong team finish came even though Duke did not have a 2V4 boat competing. In addition to Cooke Carcagno's coaching honor, seniors Alex Stonehill and Katie Dukovich were named first-team All-ACC performers and senior coxswain Simon Pitre earned second-team recognition.
Despite growing pains in Cooke Carcagno's first year in dual races against the Tigers and Cavaliers earlier in the season, the Blue Devils showed growth this weekend and will now look ahead to the NCAA selection show Tuesday at 5 p.m. If Duke is one of the 22 teams selected, it will compete May 27-29 in Gold River, Ca.
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"We took some major losses this year, but we’ve been training through every race," Cooke Carcagno said. “We’ve consistently tested ourselves against the top-five teams in the country. Not many other programs have done that. Today it paid off for us. Having trained through all these hard races during the year certainly made a big difference for us in the end today.”