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Duke rowing places 3rd in ACC Championships behind gold-medal performance in Varsity Four final

<p>Duke co-hosted the ACC Championships with North Carolina at Lake Wheeler in Raleigh.</p>

Duke co-hosted the ACC Championships with North Carolina at Lake Wheeler in Raleigh.

RALEIGH—In her penultimate regatta as head coach for Duke rowing, Megan Cooke Carcagno delivered yet again for the Blue Devils.

No. 15 Duke rowing competed in the ACC Championship Friday and Saturday on Raleigh’s Lake Wheeler, taking on the finest crews in the conference in front of a cheering home crowd. As co-hosts along with North Carolina at the event, the Blue Devils made sure to utilize their home ground advantage, just like they did at the Lake Wheeler Invitational a few weeks earlier. Indeed, the Duke crews returned to Durham with a bronze trophy after finishing the regatta with 78 points, 12 points behind powerhouse teams No. 10 Syracuse and No. 16 Virginia.

“We have a very solid team,” Carcagno said. “I’m honored to get third place in this regatta.”

The Varsity Four headlined the Blue Devils’ Saturday at Lake Wheeler with a first-place finish. This boat has been strong all season, earning ACC Crew of the Week honors in April. It was no surprise, then, when the Duke V4 absolutely dominated its race, pushing through to take the lead and beat Virginia by more than six seconds. The gold medal winners — Eliza Straayer, Erin Temple, Vivienne Foley, Grace Matos and Ava Liebmann — did it all in 7:05.13.

“I’m really proud of our Varsity Four, that was a great win for them,” Carcagno said. “They weren’t leading in the beginning, and fought their way through and got open water by the end, which is tremendous.”

Duke started the weekend well, finishing in the top three in all five of its heats Friday. The Third Varsity Eight earned Duke’s first victory with a time of 6:58.97, comfortably ahead of Notre Dame and North Carolina. The Varsity Four followed suit, posting the quickest time with 7:23.19 to beat out Virginia by three seconds. The V8 and 2V8 followed with back-to-back second-place times of 6:38.58 and 6:48.01, respectively, finishing closely behind the top boats from Virginia. The 2V4 closed out the day in style with yet another second-place finish.

On Saturday, preliminary rounds became finals, and Carcagno’s crew placed all five boats into the grand final races. The Blue Devils began their title challenge with a strong performance by the 3V8, which scored Duke’s first medal with a bronze finish. The Second Varsity Four rowed an awesome and resilient race, chasing Virginia’s crew until the very end. But ultimately, the Blue Devils were unable to catch the Cavaliers, narrowly missing out on first place by 0.66 seconds. 

“Those are great athletes in there,” Carcagno said of the 2V4. “They did a tremendous job chasing down that win and they were so close. It’s a testament to believing that you can do it.”

The Second Varsity Eight did well by coming third in their race, but they were far behind both Syracuse and Virginia. Nevertheless, the 2V8’s efforts were enough to set up an exciting end to the championship, with Duke and Syracuse tied on points for second and Virginia leading by only four points before the Varsity Eight grand final. 

Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, it was not meant to be. Coming off a slow start and against an extremely tight field, the Duke V8 struggled and could only manage a fourth-place finish, two seconds behind the bronze medalists in the Notre Dame boat. The Syracuse crew won the race by virtue of a tiebreaker, and with it the Orange’s first ACC Championship in program history, ending Virginia’s 13-year dominance in the competition. 

The Duke squad now sets its sights on the NCAA Rowing Championship starting May 31. Last season, the team placed 14th overall for its best finish in program history. The Blue Devils are hoping to reach similar heights on the national stage this year in what would be Carcagno’s last regatta at the helm of Duke Rowing.

“It’s definitely not an outright bid for any reason. So we’ll have to just get many sleepless nights ahead of us to see if we go,” Carcagno said of the selection show Tuesday. “But otherwise, I’ve really enjoyed this season. I enjoyed this team and I’ve enjoyed my time at Duke.”

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