Duke rowing 2021 season preview

Duke is in prime position to take home its first conference title in program history.
Duke is in prime position to take home its first conference title in program history.


It’s officially spring, and that means Duke rowing is back. The team heads into this unprecedented season looking to win its first ACC championship in school history. And although they’ll have to go through perennial powerhouse Virginia, the Blue Devils appear to have a mix of experience and newcomers that’ll make them contenders to finally take home the conference crown.

New rowers to watch

The Blue Devils have seven freshmen on the roster this year, all of whom have brought a promising energy to the boathouse every day. Duke head coach Megan Cooke Carcagno said she is very pleased with the entire class, especially freshman coxswain Ithika Senthilnathan, who should be a key player during races. Carcagno added that fellow freshmen Brenna Morley and Kathryn Nash have been stepping up in a big way through the preseason as well.

Returning rowers to watch

Duke also has a plethora of returning rowers. Tara Fagan, returning for her fifth year, brings a great deal of experience and wisdom that few teams are lucky enough to have. Furthermore, Carcagno spoke highly of captains Gabriella Salvati, Amelia Shunk, Caroline Olsen and Reed Kenny.

In terms of boat-movers, there are a fair share of sophomores and juniors making their names heard. Carcagno mentioned sophomore Lauren Sizemore and junior Sydney Johnson displaying top-end speed that’ll contribute to the Varsity Eight through their stroking ability, while sophomores Megan Lee and Morgan Linsley also bring an exciting combination of skill and experience to the table.

Most anticipated matchup: ACC Championship, May 14-15

The most intriguing matchup will be when the Blue Devils face off against the best of the conference in the ACC Championship. The regatta is scored based on the combination of performances from each team’s top three eight-oared boats (eight rowers and a coxswain), and top two four-oared boats (four rowers and a coxswain). Virginia has won the ACC Championship for the last 10 seasons, but the Blue Devils fell just five points short against the Cavaliers in 2019, and are in position to break this now decade-long tradition. 

Best-case scenario

Duke is returning 19 of its 37 rowers who raced in the 2019 ACC Championship. And in each of the four events that it lost to Virginia, the margin was under seven seconds, so it is very plausible for the Blue Devils to overcome this slim margin and take home their first conference title. 

Considering that Virginia placed 10th at the 2019 NCAA Championships, a Blue Devil victory against the Cavaliers would also make a top-10 finish, or better, a realistic possibility at the NCAA Championships.

Worst-case scenario

The ACC is loaded with elite rowing programs, and if Duke doesn’t have its best months of training leading up to the conference championships or has a poor performance on race-day, it could find itself in relatively close finishes with the likes of Syracuse, Notre Dame and Clemson. But even in this scenario, the Blue Devils’ floor appears to be a solid second-place finish behind Virginia.


1st in ACC, 7th in NCAA

Editor's note: This is a part of The Chronicle's series of previews for Duke's spring sports, the rest of which can be found here.


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