It is Harvard’s first NCAA championship in any sport since the women’s lacrosse title in 1990. The men’s hockey team’s NCAA championship in 1989 is the only other NCAA title Harvard has claimed since 1904.
The crown is also Radcliffe’s second national championship, the first occurring in 1973, and marks a drastic improvement over the Black and White’s 11th-place finish in the NCAAs last year.
Radcliffe took home the title after posting 59 total team points, besting defending champion Brown by two points and third-place Washington by four. Brown and Washington had split the previous six NCAA championships.
The Black and White crew earned its victory points by winning the first varsity Grand Final, placing fifth in the second varsity events and sixth in the varsity four race.
Brown demonstrated its depth by winning the second varsity and varsity four races, but severely hampered its chances of a title repeat by failing to qualify for the first varsity Grand Final.
Radcliffe controlled its own destiny going into the final day being the only school to have all three boats qualify for each grand race. However, the Black and Whites’ fifth- and sixth-place finishes in the second varsity and varsity four races, respectively, gave Washington the inside track to the NCAA crown with only the first varsity Grand Final remaining.
After those two finals, Radcliffe found itself in fourth place with 23 points. However two of the teams ahead of the Black and White—Brown and Cal—had not qualified for the first varsity Grand Final. Thus, Washington, with 28 points, was left as the main obstacle in Radcliffe’s path to the title.
In order to earn the title, the Black and White varsity not only needed to finish first, but needed the Huskies to finish at least two places behind.
“We didn’t actually know the situation we were in,” said co-captain Courtney Brown. “The rest of the team knew what rankings we needed to get the trophy. We were just concerned abut winning the race.”
One final twist to the tale is that the USC first varsity boat qualified for the NCAAs, but its crew did not. Therefore, the teams behind USC in the first varsity Grand Final would move ahead one place in points for team rankings. So in order for Radcliffe to win, USC could not be the buffer between the Black and Whites and the Huskies.
“We didn’t know how the 2V finished. We were warming up at the time and only saw them up until the 1000-meter mark,” said junior Caryn Davies. “Even had I known, it wouldn’t have made a difference, we race to win. Like our coach tells us, race in the moment.”
In victory, Davies became the first American rower to win an NCAA title and a world championship in the same season.
The endless possibilities vanished in the minds of spectators when Washington jumped out to an early lead in the first 500 meters. The Trojans and the Black and White trailed by half a second and nearly a full second, respectively.
“We focused on Washington, and Michigan towards the end,” Brown said. “But we focused mainly on being as fast as we could.”
Between the 500- and 1000-meter mark, Radcliffe made its move, passing both the Huskies and the Trojans to take the lead. Washington fell to fifth, as Stanford, Michigan and Virginia leapfrogged ahead.