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Second Varsity Eight leads No. 11 Duke rowing at Virginia Invite

Duke's Second Varsity Eight won all three of its races at the Virginia Invite.
Duke's Second Varsity Eight won all three of its races at the Virginia Invite.

What’s better than having one crew post competitive times in Varsity Eight races? Having two.

Duke’s Second Varsity Eight highlighted the Blue Devils' performance at the Virginia Invite this past Friday and Saturday. In addition to comfortably winning all three of its races in Charlottesville, Va., Duke's Second Varsity Eight boat posted a time in every race that was within four seconds of Duke’s First Varsity Eight, even posting a faster time Friday against Virginia.

The First Varsity Eight is the team’s fastest eight rowers, top coxswain and gets the team’s best equipment. Moving down, rowers are then placed into subsequent boats ranked by speed, with the next fastest eight rowers and next-best coxswain in the Second Varsity Eight.

Across all races, the 11th-ranked Blue Devils lost 4-of-5 races to No. 3 Virginia, won 3-of-4 against No. 9 Tennessee and swept Central Florida.

The Second Varsity Eight: Everybody’s boat

Duke’s Second Varsity Eight was the only Blue Devil crew to win all three of its races this past weekend. With Virginia being the defending ACC Champions and all other Duke crews losing to the Cavaliers, the Second Varsity Eight’s victory against the host by just under 10 seconds likely felt particularly sweet. The Second Varsity Eight also posted impressive margins of just under 18 and five seconds against Central Florida and Tennessee, respectively. 

Having “open water” is a phrase used in rowing to indicate that a crew is far enough ahead of its opponent that the two boats have no overlap. In other words, the leading crew’s stern (back) is ahead of the trailing crew’s bow (front). 

The Second Varsity Eight’s victories against Virginia and Central Florida comfortably qualified as “open water victories,” and its five-second victory against Tennessee appeared to achieve this benchmark as well, although the race was much closer. Winning by open water against strong opponents like these is an impressive feat, and one that requires a high level of teamwork and repetition at practice.

“The 2V8 has had a lot of great success, and I attribute it to all of the many different student-athletes we’ve cycled through there,” head coach Megan Cooke Carcagno wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “That boat very much represents our team and I’m excited to see all of our boats match their success” 

Race conditions

The conditions of the weather and race course over the weekend were challenging to say the least, with heavy wind pushing the regatta’s start back an hour Friday. These boats are difficult enough to keep set under perfect conditions, and even the slightest push in any direction can easily throw the boat off balance, causing the falling side’s oars to smack the water and diminish all forward momentum. 

In a sport decided by seconds, every factor matters, and the crews that account for the wind best are granted an advantage. In addition to the obstacles from the weather, the Virginia Invite’s race course also has a notable turn, and it is critical for coxswains to steer their crews in the most efficient route possible. 

“I thought we did fine,” Carcagno wrote regarding handling the weather conditions. “The trickier part of racing at Virginia is that there is a turn in the course. Being on the outside of a turn is a tough position, but one that will thicken our skin for future races.”

Moving forward

Scoping out from this race and looking at the big picture, Duke has just over a month left until the ACC Championships May 14-15. The Blue Devils will certainly look to close the gap between themselves and the Cavaliers, while staying ahead of crews like Syracuse, Notre Dame and Clemson, all three of which pushed Duke in the 2019 ACC Championships.

“We’re in a good position in the country, but we’re going to need to put in more every day to hit our personal goals,” Carcagno wrote. “And no one is going to give us an easy race.”

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