Almost every morning at the crack of dawn, Duke travels about 20 minutes away to Lake Michie in order to train and practice in hopes of outworking and eventually outracing their competition.
For four rowers, their dedication and commitment to winning and each other resulted in a payoff in the form of a space in Duke athletics’ history books.
May 18 at the 2019 ACC championship, the varsity four boat—composed of graduate student Tara Christensen, sophomore Anne Klok, and freshmen Amelia Shunk and Olivia Von Stauffenberg, coxed by junior Rani Duff—finished first for the Blue Devils, the first ACC gold medal in the program’s history.
“This is something that we’ve been building towards for four years and it takes a lot of different steps in a lot of different areas to get to a position where, maybe you’re not winning a championship but you’re in a position to win,” head coach Megan Cooke Carcagno said. “All of the little factors, you can’t do overnight and it’s definitely taken us to this point to be in a position to be this successful.”
Although this feat marks the boat’s first conference finals win, this was not its first time on the water together, and more importantly, not its first first place finish. Christensen, Klok and Duff won their first and second races as a Varsity Four at the Carolina Cup and the Cooper Sprints back in March along with seniors Rhea Bergman and Anna Jenkins and sophomore Caitlyn Carlisle. Shunk joined the four with freshman Elizabeth Butero at the Big Ten-ACC dual in April where the boat won another gold medal. Two weeks later, the same four won again at the Lake Wheeler Invitational, the final stop before etching their names down in history at the ACC championships where Von Stauffenberg replaced Butero due to injury.
Throughout it all, the boat gained necessary time together on the water, creating a greater sense of chemistry which proved crucial for its dominating win. Carcagno and the crew learned a lot about each other during the season, and what each one of them brought to the table in order to contribute to their success.
At the bow seat, Christensen brought a sense of leadership and maturity as a fifth-year on the team. Christensen suffered a sidelining injury during her freshman year, but came back after graduation to compete and win for the Blue Devils.
“I think that was very very pivotal to our team in just realizing the opportunity that rowing is,” Carcagno said. “Instead of something that you have to do or being motivated by other external factors, she really brought it home why we do this sport and why we fall in love with it.”
The Amsterdam, Netherlands native Klok, in the second seat, brought a lot of experience to the four as a winner of numerous national championships before her arrival to Duke.
“She just brings a very professional, level-headed game to what she does on-and-off the water,” Carcagno said. “She’s a very good teammate...just a fiery competitor and a ton of racing experience. I think that composure lends itself very well to the chemistry of the boat.”
One of the youngest members of the team, the 2019 ACC Freshman of the Year Shunk provided the energy and motor the team needed to overcome obstacles along the way.
“She is wildly spirited, a ton of energy, always a mile high,” Carcagno said. “I think that type of person, especially at the stern of your boat, just really leads the charge in terms of enthusiasm...she’s the type of person that makes it fun and lively.”
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Finally, Von Stauffenberg was put in at the third seat at the last minute, but was quickly able to find her stride and role for the boat.
“I think the chemistry with all four of them, each coming with a different background was able to click together and find a rhythm is what set that boat apart,” Carcagno said.
This win helped Duke finish second in the ACC championship as a program, inevitably pushing them over the edge to earn an at-large bid for the second time in the program’s history. The boat will race again at the NCAA Finals as they hope to make waves once again.
“It’s a huge boost of confidence,” Carcagno said. “This is a pivotal moment for our program. We can do this, we are working towards it, we are moving closer to it every single year.”
Derek Saul contributed reporting.