There is no doubt that the Radcliffe lightweight crew was among the top three crews in the nation.
The problem, encountered all season, was cracking through that third spot and finishing in the top two in a big regatta.
Along with the Black and White, Princeton and Wisconsin have absolutely ruled the lightweight circuit throughout the years.
In the past five years, no other team has won either the IRA National Championship or the Eastern Sprints title.
Last season, Radcliffe turned in one of its best races in program history in the Sprints, taking the title while setting a course record for the event.
The Badgers exacted revenge by winning IRAs, where the Tigers came in second and the Black and White finished third.
This year, though, Radcliffe could not quite find a way to bust through and claim a big race for its own. The No. 3 ranking that became attached to the Black and White in the preseason would become a season-long descriptor.
Traveling down to the nation’s capital, Radcliffe locked up with No. 5 Georgetown in a dominant opener.
The Black and White prevailed in both the varsity eight and the novice eight events, winning the both races with open water.
At the Knecht Cup, Radcliffe got its first chance against its archrivals. But Princeton proved the most game, crossing the course in 6:46.7, slightly more than one second ahead of Wisconsin and just three and a half seconds ahead of the Black and White.
“It was a very fun race,” co-captain seven-seat Kristin Hicks said. “It was incredibly exciting and it was fun for us—we were pretty much dead even with Wisconsin. When you have three teams four seconds apart, it’s really anybody’s game.”
Two weeks later, Radcliffe got the opportunity to dance one-on-one with the Tigers in the Class of 1999 Cup. Again Princeton proved too powerful, beating the Black and White by a shade under seven seconds.
“I was pleased with how the eight raced,” junior stroke Sarah Bates said at the time. “I think we had an aggressive race, but it just wasn’t enough to match Princeton’s speed.”
The varsity four fared better, besting a pair of Tiger boats by open water.
With another two weeks before Eastern Sprints, the lights had the time to try and figure out how to beat Princeton and Wisconsin.
Unfortunately, all preparations proved in vain as the Badgers took the crown securely with a time of 6:35.00 while the Tigers grabbed second in 6:39.70. The Black and White again found itself in third place, finishing in 6:45.30.
One final event remained for Radcliffe to attempt to unseat the pair, and it would be the biggest stage on which to do it.
At the IRA National Championships, the Black and White showed that it had improved and made strides towards toppling one of the two.
But Radcliffe fell just short, as Wisconsin took the race and the national title by about three-fourths of a length. Princeton edged out the Black and White for the silver by just over one and a half seconds.
A national championship may not have been in the cards, yet Radcliffe proved that it has no qualms about making a splash among top competition.
—Staff writer J. Patrick Coyne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.