Duke rowing 2023 season preview

<p>Duke placed third at the 2022 ACC Championship in Clemson, S.C.</p>

Duke placed third at the 2022 ACC Championship in Clemson, S.C.


With the cherry blossoms blooming and spring on the horizon, Duke is officially back in action. Last year, the Blue Devils’ campaign was a strong one as they continued to boost the program’s reputation under the guidance of head coach Megan Cooke Carcagno. After winning its sixth-consecutive Carolina Cup by sweeping all five races, Duke continued to have strong showings in its competitions with an 18-race sweep at the Oak Ridge Cardinal Invite. As a contender for the ACC title, the Blue Devils fell short of the crown, earning third place off an 82-point performance bolstered by a first-place Second Varsity Four finish. With their third-consecutive bid to the NCAA Championships, Duke placed 16th after three days of competition.

With the 2023 campaign fast approaching, the Blue Devils — led by a trio of captains in seniors Megan Lee, Lauren Sizemore and Caeley Tierney — are poised for a strong season once more. As one of the key returners for Duke, Lee earned first-team All-ACC honors after leading the Varsity 8 lineup to bronze in the ACC Championships. Meanwhile, the freshman class shows promise for stardom. The main first-year headliner, Sophia Greco, along with Lee, competed in the World Rowing Championships this past summer. With a good blend of freshman phenoms and seasoned veterans, the 2023 season promises to be another campaign full of electric Blue Devil performances.

“We practice so much to race so little,” said Cooke Carcagno. “So I think there’s always a good amount of hype going into the beginning of the year.” -Mackenzie Sheehy

New rowers to watch: Sophia Greco, Sophie Gower

There is a lot to be excited for in this incoming class of rowers, and Cooke Carcagno hesitated to pick out any one name.

“I don't want to name names only because there would be too many. And I wouldn't want anyone to be left out,” said Carcagno. “But the 2A’s are freshmen. They've had an immediate impact on our speed and depth as a program, and I can see several of them making our NCAA squad based off of their talent.”

That being said, some of the bigger young names to look out for in the spring season include Greco and Sophie Gower. Greco was a stand-out high school rower, winning first place in the USRowing Youth Nationals in the U19 2- in June 2021. On top of that, the Connecticut native was part of a coxed four that set new records in both the heat and final at the 2022 World Rowing U19 Championships. Gower also has some strong pre-college accomplishments, including being a member of the 2021 Canadian Junior National Team and placing seventh in the 2021 World Junior Rowing championships. -Martin Heintzelman

Returning rowers to watch: Senior class

With a strong senior class, the Blue Devils have both new and returning talent. Cooke Carcagno pointed out the entirety of the senior class. 

“They’ve worked really hard over four years. They’re truly an amazing class,” Cooke Carcagno said. “They’re contributing in every shape and form, so to speak, to the team right now.” 

That senior class includes Tierney, who was named a captain for the coming season. Tierney has competed in 16 regattas over her three years as a Blue Devil, and played an integral role for the team’s Varsity 4 lineup throughout the 2022 season. 

Carcagno did single out Lee, who was named to the 2022 All-ACC First Team and will serve as captain alongside Sizemore and Tierney. 

“She’s had an incredible year, and incredible years here at Duke,” Carcagno said of Lee. “I’m just really proud of her efforts.”

In addition to a strong senior class, the Blue Devils have a deep junior class including coxswain Ithika Senthilnathan, who coxed the Varsity Eight to first place at the Carolina Cup last season. Juniors Brenna Morley and Kathryn Nash and sophomore Molli Nicol are must-watches as well. -Anna Newberry

Most anticipated matchup: Lake Wheeler Invitational, April 21-22

The rowing season is one that has relatively few matchups. Duke only has four regular-season competitions scheduled before the ACC Championships in May, but the team still looks forward to hosting its own event every year.

“The Lake Wheeler Invitational is always going to be really fun for us. It's an event we put on here at home,” said Carcagno. “… But I think they're all going to be equally fun and good chances for us to get better.”

Lake Wheeler, where the team also trains, will play host to one of the Blue Devils’ regular-season meets this year. That will be especially convenient for when Duke co-hosts the ACC Championships on Lake Wheeler a few weeks later. April’s event will give the team ample time to get used to the lake in a competitive setting. -Heintzelman

Best-case scenario

The Blue Devils are returning many key rowers to their roster, and combined with a welcome infusion of freshman talent, Duke has a chance to go after the conference crown with gusto. Considering their first-place sweeps of many invitationals, Cooke Carcagno’s squad has the potential to make waves on the national stage. After the Second Varsity Four finished first in the ACC Championships last year and the bronze performance from Lee’s boat, the Blue Devils proved they can compete with the best of the best. 

After knocking on the door the past few years, Duke could finally break past the perennial powerhouses of Virginia and Syracuse to win the ACC title. If it can bring the conference trophy back to Durham, then it has the potential to perform well at the NCAAs. With such a strong team, the Blue Devils could very well place in the top 10 at the national regatta. While it appears unlikely they will make the podium, anything is possible. -Sheehy

Worst-case scenario

In a strong rowing conference such as the ACC, the Blue Devils have to fight to make a name for themselves. With competitive programs at Syracuse, Virginia and Clemson, Duke will need a strong performance at the ACC Championships to qualify for the NCAA Championships in Camden, N.J. After placing third in the conference behind Virginia and Syracuse last season, struggling at the wrong moment and failing to qualify for nationals would be the worst-case scenario. -Newberry


Heintzelman: 3rd in ACC, 11th in NCAA

Newberry: 3rd ACC, 14th in NCAA

Sheehy: 2nd in ACC, 10th in NCAA

Mackenzie Sheehy profile
Mackenzie Sheehy | Blue Zone editor

Mackenzie Sheehy is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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