Beat a team twice in a row, the third showdown is always the toughest.
After beating No. 3 Princeton and No. 2 Wisconsin in their last two match-ups, the No. 1 Radcliffe lightweight crew fell to the Tigers and the Badgers in the Grand Final of the IRA National Championship on Saturday in Camden, N.J., securing a bronze medal.
Wisconsin dominated the event in 7:06.36, and the Tigers (7:18.02) edged the Black and White (7:19.04) by two seats.
“We’re very disappointed,” co-captain Ame Bothwell said. “We had very high hopes.”
The Eastern Sprint champion Radcliffe qualified directly for the Grand Final on Friday, winning its opening heat. Powering out to a two-length lead by the halfway point, the top-seeded Black and White easily bested runner-up Stanford by better than 14 seconds.
In the Grand Final, Radcliffe again squared off against the Tigers and the Badgers on the Cooper River, the site of the Eastern Sprints and Knecht Cup.
From the start, Wisconsin established a lead that only bulged as the race progressed.
“We were ready,” Bothwell said. “We knew they had a great sprint, but it [the Badger lead] went from a couple seats to a length up very quickly.”
It became increasingly clear that Princeton and the Black and White would be dueling for second, as the Badgers stroked to a three-length margin. In the end, the Tigers snuck across the line about one second ahead of Radcliffe, but were almost 12 seconds behind Wisconsin.
“It was one of those races where you row well and nothing goes wrong, but you just don’t come out ahead,” Bothwell said. “It was a good race, powerful. We had a good start, we had a good sprint.”
Georgetown (7:25.59), Rhode Island (7:29.07) and Central Florida (7:43.77) rounded out the field.
The enormous margin of victory, the largest in the history of the event, led to speculation that rowers from Wisconsin’s heavyweight program may have dropped down a class to fill out the lineup. Such rumors were wholly false.
“I don’t know what they did the past month, but it was very effective,” Bothwell said. “They were the clear winners. We’re very happy for them.”
Entering the championship as the nation’s top-ranked crew, the Black and White had bested the Badgers in both the teams’ match-ups this season, at the Knecht Cup on April 18 and at the Eastern Sprints on May 9.
After dropping its first two races to Princeton this year, Radcliffe topped the Tigers on the Charles River on April 24 and again at the Sprints.