The Radcliffe crew, intent on establishing itself early as a serious contender for national women's rowing laurels, took a giant step in that direction Saturday, crushing last year's national women's titlist from the Philadelphia Women's Rowing Club in a five-team regatta in Middletown, Conn.
While the head-to-head confrontation of Radcliffe and Philadelphia has been billed as a classic struggle throughout the week before the race, Radcliffe wasted little time seizing control of the encounter.
Brusting out of the start at a high 41 cadence, the 'Cliffe squad had open water by the midway point, settling into a 37 cadence en route to an eight-second win over Philadelphia. Radcliffe finished with a fast 2:45 clocking for the 1000 meter course (which, unmeasured, may have been a trifle shorter).
After an easy win in the season opener with Syracuse, Radcliffe didn't want to take any chances against a team with the credentials of Philadelphia. The 'Cliffe won because it outstroked Philly from beginning to end, even though Radcliffe didn't row that well.
"Radcliffe was very hungary for this one," Crimson coach John Baker said yesterday. "We just demonstrated very early in the race who we thought should win."
The rest of the field, while of little influence on the outcome of the race, provided a few surprising wrinkles. Before the race, Middletown High School figured to be little more than a throw-in to round out the field, but the high school squad came in a surprising third, ahead of both Wesleyan and Trinity.
Wesleyan looked incredibly bad in the contest, finishing way, way back in fourth place. Trinity didn't finish the race after the team's stroke popped her knee out a third into the race. Yale, the "paper entry" of the regatta, lived up to pre-race expectations and did not appear. But the Eli women did send word to the rest of the field.
"We had better things to do," they messaged to Middletown. The fact that in last Fall's Head of the Charles Regatta all the Yale women had going for them were a set of pretty blue jerseys (according to Radcliffe coach John Braker) was probably the unstated motivation for the withdrawal.
While the race was important competitively for the Radcliffe squad, it was a vital contest from the point of view of team morale as well. Two weeks of two-a-day practices had tired the 'Cliffe performers out both physically and emotionally and a loss to Philadelphia would have had an irrevocably discouraging effect.
"Everyone was pretty tired after the last two weeks' practice," bow oar Anne Robinson said yesterday. "If we didn't win this one we were all ready to bag it."
Radcliffe sported five "rookies" against the veteran-studded Philadelphia eight. But it was a clear-cut case of youth winning out over experience on a Saturday that will not be soon forgotten by Cambridge crew buffs.