As the Blue Devils wind down their regular season and ready themselves for postseason competition, Duke looked to the Clemson Invite as one of its last chances to show its mettle against some of the nation's best teams.
And although they had trouble placing in the top five against a field that included eight top-20 teams, the Blue Devils still managed to build some confidence as one of the ACC's better teams.
No. 19 Duke finished seventh among 21 teams at the Clemson Invite Saturday and Sunday on Lake Hartwell in Clemson, S.C., in an event that saw No. 5 Texas, No. 4 Ohio State and No. 11 Wisconsin finish in the top three. The Blue Devils found themselves in three A Finals and two B Finals, highlighted by a pair of third-place finishes in the V8 B Final and the 2V4 A Final.
“I felt really good about [this weekend],” Duke head coach Megan Cooke Carcagno said. “Each boat had some really good races as well as some not so good things we need to work on, but overall I'm very pleased with how we finished against teams that were ranked ahead of us.”
The Blue Devils’ top V8 boat consisting of juniors Meagan Lew, Megan Conroy, Sarah Fletcher and Katherine Maitland, sophomores Shannon Tierney, Isabel Ruby-Hill and Sophie Simister, freshman Olivia Mendonca and senior Elizabeth Horne struggled Saturday, opening with a third-place time of 6:30.45, then posting a fourth-place finish of 6:33.52 behind the Longhorns, Badgers and Central Florida to earn a spot in the B Finals.
However, Duke’s top V8 came back Sunday for a photo-finish final—even though UCLA took the title with a time of 6:33.45, the Knights, Oklahoma and the Blue Devils all came within half a second of each other for the next three places. Central Florida secured second by mere inches, with Duke and the Sooners just behind in third and fourth.
The Blue Devils’ first A final of the competition came from the 2V8, consisting of freshmen Karly Pearson, Lelia Boley and Kiernan Spencer, sophomores Rhea Bergman, Taji Phillips and Celia Macrae, juniors Jessica Findlay, Abby Artman and senior Phoebe Donovan. After qualifying for the A final with a Saturday-morning finish in second at 6:28.85 and third in the afternoon at 6:38.35, Duke faced some of its fiercest competition of the weekend in the final.
Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, Duke’s second V8 struggled, with Texas taking first at 6:36.49—eight seconds faster than the Blue Devils—followed by Wisconsin and the Buckeyes. Despite Duke’s best effort, No. 10 Virginia bested the Blue Devils, nabbing fourth at 6:43.66 just ahead of Duke in fifth at 6:44.58.
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Even up against full novice boats, the Blue Devils’ 3V8 struggled all weekend—it took fifth in the B final at 7:41.27, a half second behind Minnesota’s novice V8 and almost 18 seconds behind first-place Virginia at 7:23.83.
“We always have to be moving forward. We look forward to trying to analyze our progress and we try not to look back too much,” Cooke Carcagno said. “We're going to continue to do that.”
Although the Blue Devils’ V8s had trouble keeping up with their best competition, Duke’s 2V4 yet again turned heads in a repeat of the Longhorn Invite.
The crew of senior Tani O’Neill, freshman Danielle Lodge and sophomores Jiahui Liao, Julia Weber and Marissa Donadio earned a spot in the A final with a pair of second-place finishes Saturday. Although Ohio State and the Longhorns dominated the Blue Devils with times of 7:31.10 and 7:38.66, Duke managed to hold off the Cavaliers with a heroic push in the final 500 meters, clocking a time of 7:45.09.
The Blue Devils’ V4 did not fare as well in its A final. After leaving Saturday with second- and third-place finishes, Duke’s top V4 placed sixth for the weekend with a time of 7:32.92.
“It's always nice to win but the most important thing is that we move closer to finding the speed that will get us in a really good spot for the ACCs,” Cooke Carcagno said. “The best thing that this race has shown us is that we can go into the ACC championship highly competitive, and that's what we're going to work on next weekend--keep getting faster.”
With the Dale England Cup coming up next weekend—a tournament that Duke tied for first in last year—the Blue Devils have one race to go before the ACC championship in May. Their performance in the conference tournament will determine if they get the chance to repeat last year’s run to the NCAA championship.
“It's hard to compare one year to another, and this is a very different team to the team we had last year. There are way fewer seniors and this team has taken on a different shape,” Cooke Carcagno said. “That being said, we're looking to repeat our performance in the ACCs and just put ourselves in the best position.”