After a tough 2017 season that ended all too soon, the Blue Devils got back on the water with a relatively young squad to make a splash in their first major race of the year.

Duke traveled to Boston this weekend to compete in the historic Head of the Charles Regatta—one of the largest rowing competitions in North America where teams ranging from high schools, colleges and clubs converge to race on the Charles River. After Duke’s freshmen turned heads on day one with a sixth-place finish in the Collegiate/Club 4, the Blue Devils’ Champ 4 and 8 notched solid performances Sunday.

“Overall, we did pretty good,” Duke head coach Megan Cooke Carcagno said. “We haven't been in [this race] in a number of years so we had to start from the back of the pack for all of the races, which is just hard—you have to pass a lot of boats, which can make the course unpredictable.”

The clear highlight for the Blue Devils this weekend was their Collegiate/Club 4, with an all-freshman roster of Leeloo Gilet, Catherine Dana, Caitlyn Carlisle, Laura Navarrete and Katherine Lusitig finishing in sixth with a time of 18:38.05. Duke trailed Alabama, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Dartmouth and Marist in a 53-boat race, and trailed the title-winning Crimson Tide by just 36 seconds.

“[Our freshmen] did awesome,” Cooke Carcagno said. “They started way back—they were 45th—and  they passed eight boats, so that was eight different variables swerving around in front of them. They got stuck on the outside in the last 90 seconds and were stuck behind a slower crew, and it forced them to go wide. They lost a number of spots right then and there. Had it not been for that, they would have finished in the top three. I'm really proud of those guys. It bodes well for the future of our team.”

Although the Blue Devils’ upperclassmen boats did not clock as impressive finishes, Duke still showed that it can be in the conversation for the NCAA championships after falling just short last year.

The Blue Devils' Champ 8 of seniors Meagan Lew, Sarah Fletcher, Taji Phillips and Katherine Maitland, juniors Isabel Ruby-Hill, Shannon Tierney and Celia Macrae, and sophomores Olivia Mendonca and Lelia Boley took 19th out of 36 boats with a time of 15:46.29. Throughout the race, Duke was battling  Virginia’s B boat and Pennsylvania’s Champ 8, starting off well ahead of both boats before the Quakers found a late gear to finish less than half a second before the Blue Devils. But the Cavaliers were not so lucky, falling just behind Duke at 15:46.46.

Not all Blue Devil boats had standout performances through the weekend, with the Champ 4 struggling to keep up with the rest of the pack.

Sophomores Tara Fagan and Grace Garverick, juniors Sophie Simister and Rhea Bergman and senior Tara Christensen took 15th out of 16 boats with a time of 18:32.23. Duke struggled from the outset, trailing Boston—which took 14th—by four seconds at the first split. The only team the Blue Devils held back was Connecticut, which finished way behind in 19:26.75.

Although this weekend’s races were a chance for Duke to show that it is a team to be reckoned with, it’s still too early to tell how the Blue Devils stack up to their immediate competition. The fall season for rowing is primarily long-distance head races, with the faster-paced 2000-meter races taking place in the spring and postseason.

Duke will be back in action next Sunday, Oct. 29, when it will have another opportunity to get some racing in at the Princeton Chase in Princeton, N.J.

“Head race is about testing your fitness, making sure you worked hard over the summer, coming up with some possible lineup combinations for the spring and always having a little bit of fun and getting yourself out on the racecourse to see if all that training is paying off,” Cooke Carcagno said. “That's what I hope to expect out of all of our fall racing season and putting ourselves in a strong and confident position for the spring.”