DURHAM, N.C. – With the Duke rowing season less than two weeks away, head coach Megan Cooke Carcagno and junior tri-captain Katherine Maitland recently sat down with GoDuke.com to discuss the upcoming campaign.
Cooke Carcagno led the Blue Devils to their first NCAA Championships appearance in 2016. Postseason honors included Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association (CRCA) National Staff of the Year, CRCA Region 3 Head Coach of the Year, CRCA Region 3 Staff of the Year and ACC Coach of the Year. Maitland was elected one of three captains for this spring. She was a Second Team CRCA All-Region selection who played a critical role with the V8 for the second straight year.
GoDuke.com: What have been some of the team’s biggest improvements since arriving back on campus this fall to now?
Katherine Maitland: I think our team culture has grown more to where we wanted it to be. We definitely learned a lot during what happened last year, and having to build a new team culture towards performance. This year we were able to look back on last year and say “This worked. This didn’t work. How do we want to step forward and make it better?” It has been a really good thing to see everyone getting on board. Specifically, nutrition is important and getting enough sleep is important. Our academics are an even bigger thing. And it’s just the attitude to racing. Everyone is so much more aggressive this year. The step up from my freshman year to last year was huge, and even from last year to this year everyone is taking the next step. It’s great.
Megan Cooke Carcagno: I would say yes to everything she just said. The team is a little bit more professional. I would say there is way less we have to sort of cut through that kind of impeded our path to success a year ago. There are way fewer obstacles. That being said, there are still the normal obstacles that every team faces in terms of how hard we want to push ourselves, and realizing what we are capable of doing. I think every team kind of goes through that. I would say overall we are a better version of ourselves. That is really exciting for me to see.
GoDuke.com: Does what you accomplished last year impact your outlook on this year, and if so how?
KM: I think it somewhat makes me hungrier to succeed. I also like knowing that last year we worked very hard to get where we were, but I think somewhat we were given the benefit of the doubt because we made such a big jump. This year, I am very conscious that we really have to prove last year was just the beginning and this year it is going to be better. I think that is what ‘pressure is privilege’ means – us showing we deserve to be a top-10 team. That’s what we live and breathe every day. That’s what we are going to show on the race course.
MCC: I think in some moments we find ourselves a little bit stressed or feeling a little daunted by the situation of trying to go out there and trying to not only do the same, but do a little bit better. I hope that through every activity we do, we are trying to create more pressure situations so that racing becomes easier. As we move through the season we can gain more and more confidence with how we handle that pressure.
GoDuke.com: What are some changes that have been made in terms of lifestyle and/or training that can help the team improve?
KM: One thing Megan likes us to do is the ice bath. That’s something our coaches are trying to push now. Like just ice bathing as much as we can because the new hydro room [in the new Scott Family Athletics Performance Center] is open now. We are going to have a team ice bath tonight, which will be fun, hopefully. I think people are using training table [in the Blue Devil Tower DeJoy Family Club] a lot more as a source of getting good nutrition. It definitely helps having the new West Union open as well because there are so many more options there. It makes it so much easier just to get good food, whereas before we didn’t always have the best options. Also just getting enough sleep. We have a section in our athlete code, which we designed as a team, that says what the principles outside of just giving your all every day at practice are. These are what we want to do in addition.
MCC: All around I think we are dealing with a more intelligent, a more elite athlete. I think they’re taking it seriously. I think there are more kids interested in going on beyond college to row, for example at under-23 camps. I think the world is expanding in terms of our universe of rowing. That’s exciting to see. I think Duke has dabbled and tasted success individually in the past with maybe a kid every couple of years seeming to have a national team experience, or kind of hinted at the idea of going beyond. But I think now we have about five or six kids on our team who are potentially seeking to do a national team opportunity this summer. That just shows you throughout all of our depth and ranks that rowing is becoming more of a full-time gig, rather than a part-time hobby. Seriously, when you think of other teams on this campus you hear “all-star this, all-America that.” They’re doing all these things that are above and beyond what they’re playing at home for. That’s because that’s who they are. They are great student-athletes who happen to be at Duke. Here we are turning Duke student-athletes into great superstars. It’s also the other way around, but it is happening. I think you need people in our sport and on our team to break that ground and for kids to come back every summer and have that national experience. Then they will be able to say ‘yeah they’re just like us.’ It’s just that no one has broken that ground for us yet. It’s exciting with KJ [Katherine Maitland] and Jessica [Findlay] and a couple others this summer will go off and race in under 23s. It will be really fun to see.