This week was not kind to the Blue Devils.
Losing their dock to flooding, losing practice time on the water to bad weather and shifting boat lineups due to illness have all been roadblocks on their road to the postseason.
But despite it all, Duke finished strong in an impressive performance to wrap up the regular season.
The No. 17 Blue Devils traveled to Bloomington, Ind., to take on No. 16 Indiana, Notre Dame and San Diego Saturday for the Dale England Cup. Duke came in third overall with 45 points, just three points behind the Fighting Irish and 15 behind the host Hoosiers, but three out of the Blue Devils’ four boats sporting completely new lineups took first place despite a week of misfortune—Duke’s dock on Lake Michie washed out due to flooding, making water practice impossible.
“This team went through hell this week,” Blue Devil head coach Megan Cooke Carcagno said. “We lost a lot of our equipment and weren’t able to practice, but we were still able to show up and win three races with different lineups. That speaks to the depth and the strength of our team.”
Duke had a rocky start with a fourth-place finish from its V8 crew of juniors Meagan Lew, Sarah Fletcher and Katherine Maitland, sophomores Isabel Ruby-Hill, Sophie Simister and Shannon Tierney, freshmen Lelia Boley and Olivia Mendonca and senior Elizabeth Horne. Indiana dominated the race, taking a lead early and never looking back. The Hoosiers crossed the line in 6:35.6, followed by Notre Dame at 6:39.2. The Blue Devils tried to recover from a slow start, but came in just a second behind San Diego with a finish time of 6:44.6.
“[The issue] was first having to reshuffle from the top... every boat raced with a new lineup,” Cooke Carcagno said. “When you aren't even able to practice with the boats to give them guidance and to coach them and to put people in the right positions because of the weather.... From a varsity perspective, you can't do that against top teams and come out ahead.”
Since the V8 is weighted more than the other races in the team scoring totals, Duke faced an insurmountable deficit in the team competition, but bounced back to prove why it is considered a top-20 team in the nation.
The Blue Devils' 2V8 of freshmen Karly Pearson and Kiernan Spencer, sophomores Rhea Bergman, Taji Phillips and Celia Macrae, juniors Jessica Findlay, Tara Christensen and Abby Artmann and senior Phoebe Donovan came roaring out the start, taking the lead early and refusing to let go. Although Indiana attempted a final surge to nab the title, Duke held on, taking first at 6:50.50, less than a second ahead of the Hoosiers.
And as they have all season, the Blue Devils' V4s yet again put up impressive times for their finishes.
Duke's 1V4 of freshmen Tara Fagan and Bella Miller, sophomores Kharley Whelan and Marissa Donadio and senior Caroline Willis maintained control of its race throughout, hitting the first 1,000 meters with a five-second lead on its closest competition. The Blue Devils' did not let up and extended their lead to a six-second margin, crossing the finish line at 7:45.7 to take the title ahead of the Fighting Irish in second at 7:51.36.
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In the last race of the day, Duke’s 2V4 yet again left the opposition in its wake. Sophomores Jiahui Liao and Julia Weber, freshmen Danielle Lodge and Madison Brown and senior Tani O’Neill held a comfortable five-second lead thanks to a strong second split, closing their race at 8:01.3. Notre Dame lagged behind in second at 8:06.73, and Indiana found itself firmly in fourth at 8:19.13.
“[The fours] reflect the strength of our team,” Cooke Carcagno said. “This year compared to last year we've had much better depth in the middle and in the second half of our team, which is great—usually teams come with a really fast varsity eight and then not a lot of depth, and you see that in the conference quite regularly.”
Duke’s next stop will be the ACC championship, where the Blue Devils will compete for the conference title May 14 in Clemson, S.C. Thanks to a quick fix from its facilities team, Duke will back on the water for practice in the coming weeks.
“The [ACC championship] is going to be very challenging,” Cooke Carcagno said. “There are going to be a lot of teams vying for the win here and it's not going to be a clear-cut Virginia sweep as it's been in years past. That makes it more exciting and we're going to be going to work this week.”