With their legs on fire, their lungs desperate for air and 500 meters left in the race, the victorious crews are those with rowers willing to dig the deepest.
Duke earned a second place overall finish at the ACC Championship this Friday and Saturday on Lake Hartwell. The Blue Devils traded blows with Syracuse in Clemson, S.C., throughout the weekend, but Duke ultimately emerged above the Orange as the immediate follower of Virginia, which won the regatta. Duke’s Varsity Eight, Varsity Four, and Third Varsity Eight placed second in each race, while its Second Varsity Eight and Second Varsity Four finished third, and the team’s overall performance made a strong case for an at-large bid to the NCAA Championship.
The Varsity Eight: youth and leadership
The Varsity Eight event was the regatta’s last race, and Duke trailed Syracuse by one point entering it. The Blue Devils’ Varsity Eight beat Syracuse by just over a second, and finished under five seconds behind Virginia to give Duke its second-place finish overall.
“The race plan was very much, stay internal yet stay aggressive,” head coach Megan Cooke Carcagno said. “They knew in the first 1500, their goal was to take care of business, and to edge out Syracuse and stay in front of them, so they could turn their attention in the last 500 to going after Virginia.”
Duke’s success in the Varsity Eight is all the more impressive considering Sydney Johnson and Tara Fagan are the only returning members with Varsity Eight racing experience, especially since Syracuse and Virginia both had a number of graduate students racing.
“[The crew members] really did a nice job handling the pressure and situation of racing on the Varsity Eight,” Carcagno said.
Within this crew, junior Gabriella Salvati, Johnson and Fagan were awarded ACC honors, with Salvati and Johnson taking home All-ACC First Team accolades and Fagan being named All-ACC Second Team.
“[Salvati and Johnson] were key members of the Varsity Eight all season,” Carcagno said. “Giving a nod to some of the type of leadership they have not only done this year, but last year and the year before as well.”
“They are both really vocal leaders and have done a really nice job of setting the tone for the bar, especially for the younger athletes,” Carcagno said.
Duke’s armada: impressive across the board
Duke’s Varsity Four and Third Varsity Eight also secured second-place finishes behind Virginia, with the former finishing within 10 seconds of Virginia and the latter coming in six seconds behind the Cavaliers. The Second Varsity Four had a nail-biting finish and came in just under a second behind Syracuse.
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Overall, the Blue Devils’ performances are particularly impressive given that they out-performed their pre-race rankings. Duke’s Second Varsity Eight and Varsity Four were both seeded fourth, and they finished third and second, respectively.
“We race almost every day at Duke. They're racing from one edge of the lake to the other on a daily basis, and so racing for us is kind of second-nature,” Carcagno said of the intensity of her team’s training.
NCAA Championship selection
The NCAA Championship will be held in Sarasota, Fla., May 28-30, with 22 teams earning bids to the event, 11 being automatic and 11 at-large. Virginia earned the automatic ACC bid, so Duke will hope that its name is chosen on selection day this Tuesday at 5 p.m.
All teams competing at NCAAs race its First and Second Varsity Eights and their Varsity Four and while nothing is set in stone, Carcagno is confident in her team’s chances of getting into the NCAA Championship.
“I'm excited to let everyone get a few more opportunities to line up against opponents across the country,” Carcagno said.