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Duke rowing's Varsity Eight beats No. 7 Michigan for first time in program history

The Varsity Eight rowed its way past No. 7 Michigan for a tournament-best time of 6:48.60.
The Varsity Eight rowed its way past No. 7 Michigan for a tournament-best time of 6:48.60.

The phrase “a team is only as strong as its weakest link” perfectly describes Duke’s weekend at the Big Ten/ACC Double Dual.

Duke’s Varsity Eight powered the way, complemented extremely well by its lower boats, for a solid performance on Ohio State’s home waters at the Griggs Reservoir. The Varsity Eight, Third Varsity Eight, Varsity Four and Second Varsity Four all secured key victories for Duke, but the biggest story from the weekend was undoubtedly the Varsity Eight’s victory against No. 7 Michigan, its first in program history.

Varsity Eight’s top-end speed

Duke’s Varsity Eight beat Michigan and Michigan State in its first race, and placed third in its next race against Ohio State and Minnesota. This crew posted the fastest time of the day with a solid 6:48.60 in its first race, presumably because wind conditions picked up and slowed all crews down in later races. 

“A key moment for us was getting the Varsity Eight in front of Michigan,” head coach Megan Cooke Carcagno said. “Michigan is traditionally a powerhouse team. They won the Big Ten Championship in 2019. It was no small feat to outperform them on Saturday morning.” 

As for what led to the win against the Wolverines, Duke didn't change anything for that particular race.

“They just stuck to their plan and rowed a very confident pace," Carcagno said. "They didn’t do anything special or magical, they just really leaned in and trusted each other, and took a big step forward.” 

Development crews make a statement

The Third Varsity Eight and Second Varsity Four put together impressive performances to topple home crew Ohio State. Duke’s results in these two categories were particularly exciting for the crews because both races were decided by fewer than two seconds. 

“Those races were at the end of the morning, it was pretty rough conditions. Those boats got out and were able to hold onto their lead and get the job done,” Carcagno said.  “Ohio State is a fantastic team and they have a tremendous amount of depth...so any chance you can get a win off one of those boats, it really says something about your program, especially in your development boats, I think it says something about where your program is headed.”

Development crews are lineups that do not have categories representing them at the NCAA Championships, but that do have events at the ACC Championships. These boats are similar to the “bench” of a typical team, and are typically made of younger athletes on their path to gaining spots in the higher boats such as the first and second varsity boats. Their performances often represent the backbone of the team because they are always pushing those around them. 

Looking ahead

Duke’s next race is the Big Ten Invite April 17-18, where the Blue Devils will face off with some of the midwest’s fastest crews just like it did this past weekend. Duke is looking to open up the margins on the crews they beat, and close the gap between themselves and the more successful crews this weekend. 

“The training has been intense,” Carcagno said. “Our eyes are set on ACCs and NCAAs, and we're not going to give them a lot of breathing room in between, so we’re getting comfortable racing tired, and we’re building towards the season championship.”

With Duke not having a race this weekend, it has an opportunity to get some extra training in on its home lake instead. 

“My biggest thing right now is toughness and grit. We have to grind right now. We can't let off the gas pedal,” Carcagno said. “It’s really nice to have a Saturday at home to focus on what we need to do. It's easy to forget how much travel takes out of your training program.” 

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