Although Duke had a disappointing showing in March’s Longhorn Invite and almost a month off to think about it, the Blue Devils will finally have a shot at redemption against some of the Big Ten’s toughest crews.
No. 20 Duke will be traveling up to Columbus, Ohio, Saturday at 8 a.m. to take on three top 25 teams—No. 3 Michigan, No. 4 Ohio State and No. 24 Notre Dame. Despite struggling against then-No. 8 Texas and unranked Iowa earlier in March, the Blue Devils still have their sights set on making it back to the NCAA championship for the second time in program history.
“This weekend is a great opportunity for us to work on our road game,” Duke head coach Megan Cooke Carcagno said. “We get to go up against two top-five teams, which is what we did a lot of last year. We learned a ton from ourselves and saw what it takes to be a top-level program.”
Despite earlier snags, the Blue Devils certainly have the record to show that they can compete with the best teams in the country.
At the very start of its spring slate, Duke swept ACC competition at the Carolina Cup on Lake Hartwell, finishing first in the 3V8, 2V4, V4, 2V8 and V8 against North Carolina and the host school Clemson.
Even in the fall season, the Blue Devils looked dangerous, with top-five finishes in both the Rivanna Romp and Princeton Chase against notoriously challenging teams including ACC nemesis Virginia—which is the top-ranked team in the south—and reigning Ivy League champions Princeton.
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However, Duke is trying to bounce back from the disappointment of its most recent outing.
Although Cooke Carcagno's squad outpaced most of the seven other schools—including the Fighting Irish—at the Longhorn Invite, the Blue Devils were unable to keep up in finals against their highest-ranked opponents. Duke’s 2V4 was the only crew to take home a title, beating out Texas by almost two seconds.
In the V4 A boat final, the Blue Devils finished in third place, 20 seconds behind Texas and 10 seconds slower than Iowa. The 2V8 did not fare any better, coming in third again, seven seconds behind the Hawkeyes and 16 behind the Longhorns. Even Duke’s highly touted V8—the same crew that came in just behind Princeton’s V8 at the Princeton chase—had trouble on the water, taking fourth and finishing 16 seconds behind the title-winning V8 from Texas.
If the Blue Devils want to make a statement against Ohio State and Michigan, they will have to put that day behind them.
Just last weekend, the Buckeyes dominated Iowa and No. 19 Indiana in Bloomington, Ind., winning 12 of their 14 races and finishing at least five seconds ahead of every boat from Indiana. The week before that, Ohio State again flexed its muscles against another top-25 team, taking home two of three titles against No. 7 Stanford.
Michigan has its own set of impressive wins to its name, taking first in the V8 finals against No. 11 Wisconsin and Minnesota in the Big Ten Double Dual last week. Although the Wolverines only notched one out of three wins in their 2V8 against then-No. 1 California, they have V8 wins against No. 8 Yale and No. 15 Harvard under their belt from the beginning of the spring season.
“Ohio State has won the last three national championships in varsity, so they set the standard,” Cooke Carcagno said. “Michigan has been on the rise in the past few years and prove to be very fast. Both of these are great opportunities for us to put it out for 2000 meters and see where we end up.”
The Blue Devils have bested Notre Dame throughout the season, but the Fighting Irish are still dangerous in their V8s. Last week, Notre Dame finished first in its 2V8 finals against Gonzaga and UCF. In their final V8, the Fighting Irish were just one second behind Gonzaga and almost seven seconds ahead of UCF.
After Duke takes on the best of the Big Ten, the Blue Devils will be back in action next Saturday for the Clemson Invite with little more than a month until the ACC championship.
“I really hope we can find the character of who we are and how we race more defined as we go into each weekend as opposed to finding it on the race course,” Cooke Carcagno said. “Every single practice and every single race is an opportunity to define our character, define what we're known for and let our opponents know what they're up against.”