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Duke rowing 'all systems go' coming off first NCAA championship appearance

<p>The Blue Devils are trying to get back to the NCAA championship after making it for the first time ever last May.&nbsp;</p>

The Blue Devils are trying to get back to the NCAA championship after making it for the first time ever last May. 

As Hurricane Matthew draws closer, the Blue Devils are still getting ready to race with the same intensity they take into any week.

After an alumnae scrimmage last week, Duke will round out its scrimmage season against North Carolina Saturday at 8 a.m. on its home lake in Durham—Lake Michie. 

As the date looms nearer, the team has one eye on the hurricane building in the Atlantic that is scheduled to hit North Carolina’s coast sometime on Saturday.

“Right now, we’re all systems go,” Blue Devil head coach Megan Cooke Carcagno said. “We can only control one thing, and that’s us. We can’t control a hurricane, and we can’t control UNC, but [we] can control how hard we go.”

This time last year, Duke was still adjusting to Cooke Carcagno after she was hired in July 2015. Now in her second season with the Blue Devils, the 2016 ACC Coach of the Year hopes her team can sustain momentum built from the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament appearance despite losing multiple key contributors.

“This year, we were able to hit the ground running and already be able to compare what we’re doing now and what we did a year ago,” Cooke Carcagno said. “The girls also know me better, know my expectations, there’s less of a getting-to-know-you, honeymoon phase.”

North Carolina will compete four times in the fall—including Saturday’s scrimmage—up from two races last fall. The Tar Heels will look to rebound from a disappointing end to the 2015-16 season, as they finished last out of nine teams at the ACC championship in May.

Duke tied for second with Syracuse behind Virginia at the conference championship with 75 points, North Carolina totaled just 16 points compared to the leading Cavaliers’ 99.

The Tar Heels' biggest loss will be captain Chelsea Gustafson, who earned second-team All-ACC honors as a member of the squad's V8 boat.

The Blue Devils lost seven seniors across the three boats that competed at the NCAA championship last season in the V4, 2V8 and V8 races. Three seniors were members of the 2V8 boat that won the Division I C Final in May—two of them the team’s captains last year.

This year’s team captains are senior Elizabeth Horne, junior Katherine Maitland and sophomore Karley Whelan, all members of last year's first-ever NCAA championship team. The trio captains a young squad, with freshmen and sophomores accounting for more than half of the roster.

“We have an additional captain this year—a sophomore captain—just to get a little more influence from the second half of the team, since the team is so young,” Cooke Carcagno said.

Cooke Carcagno emphasized the importance of Saturday in terms of her squad, not its opponent—especially if the race is cancelled because of inclement weather. 

The Blue Devils face their first official race in just a few weeks’ time, traveling to Princeton, N.J., for the Princeton Chase Oct. 30. Duke’s highest finish in last year’s Princeton Chase was fifth place in the V4+ boat, a result the squad will look to improve on this time around.

Whether or not the two teams are able to square off on the lake Saturday morning, there’s no doubt that the Blue Devils are officially back in season as they look to get back to the NCAA championship next May.

“We’re planning on doing work on Saturday morning whether it’s in the erg room, whether it’s on the lake, whether it’s against UNC or whether it’s just against ourselves,” Cooke Carcagno said. “We just put our heads down and go to work all the time, so it’s nothing new—bring rain or shine.”