Entering the season with high hopes after the program's first NCAA championship berth last year, Duke elevated its standard of competition in Columbus, Ohio, and showed it still has a lot of work to do to keep up with the top teams in the nation.
The No. 20 Blue Devils took on No. 4 Ohio State, No. 3 Michigan and Notre Dame at Griggs Reservoir on the Scioto River Saturday and failed to notch a top-two finish with the postseason just a few weeks away. At this time last season, Duke was trying to drag itself into the national conversation after coming into the spring unranked, but the program has struggled to take the next step forward this spring.
“My overall impression of the group is content, but not fully satisfied,” Blue Devil head coach Megan Cooke Carcagno said. “We can do more. I think the Varsity 8 did well, but all of the boats fell a little shy of their goals. I think we're miles away from where we were a year ago, but I know what we want, so it will require a bigger effort going forward.”
Duke found coming in third place a recurring theme throughout the meet, fixated behind the Buckeyes and Wolverines in all five races. The V8 led off the afternoon with a third-place finish, nearly three seconds ahead of Notre Dame but nine seconds and four seconds behind Ohio State and Michigan, respectively. The V8 came the closest to first place of any of the Blue Devils' boats.
The V4 and 2V4 also turned in third-place finishes. The V4, featuring Tara Fagan, Caroline Willis, Tara Christensen, Bella Miller and Karley Whelan, came in at 7:24.1 to Ohio State’s 7:10.7 and Michigan’s 7:08.0. The 2V4 reached a similar fate, finishing 10 seconds behind the Wolverines and 16 seconds behind the Buckeyes.
Although the V8, V4 and 2V4 finished where they were expected to given the caliber of the competition, the 2V8 and 1N8 disappointed. Both boats turned in fourth-place finishes. The 2V8 was just edged by the unranked Fighting Irish by 0.3 seconds, but the 1N8 could not keep up with the field, completing its run a full 14 seconds after third-place Notre Dame.
“We are 100 percent on the right path. It's still a process and I think everyone is realizing repeating is much harder than just doing,” Cooke Carcagno said. “Each boat is getting better each week....The next step is being able to put it all together on race day.”
The race also marked a return to Big Ten territory for Cooke Carcagno, who coached as an assistant at Wisconsin before taking her current position for the Blue Devils in 2015.
“It was weird,” Cooke Cargano said of being back in the Midwest. “My first time on that course was when Ohio hosted [the Big Ten Championships]. My novice crews won. That was great and I have good memories of Scioto. It's always a pleasure to go up against great teams like Ohio State and Michigan. They really set the standard.”
Duke will head down to South Carolina to take part in the Clemson Invite next weekend.
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