PREVIEW: Radcliffe Aiming To Dismiss Princeton

Having already defeated Tigers twice, No. 1 Black and White to go for three

Alexandra C. Bell

Third in the nation is a title most teams in the country would take in a heartbeat.

Radcliffe women’s lightweight crew is not “most teams.”

After finishing behind Princeton and Wisconsin at the IRA national championships the past two years, the Black and White came into the season expecting a change.

The team wanted to get back on top, and the No.1 Radcliffe crew has done just that.

With the men’s heavyweight team losing a head-to-head race for the first time in three years, the Black and White is the new top team on the Charles. For those who have gone through past years of disappointment, such as senior captains Sarah Bates and Ashley Antony, it has been a long time coming.

“This year, more than any other year, the team has had high internal motivation,” said Bates. “More people are training outside to help toward the speed of the team as a whole to put [Radcliffe] on top.”

The 2006 season of change started with a victory over the team that had finished ahead of Radcliffe at the IRAs for the past three years, the 2003 national champion Tigers. By posting a six-second victory at the Windemere Cup in California over its rival, the Black and White started its drive to the top.

The team’s success continued with a defeat of Georgetown for the Class of 2004 Cup the next week. At the Knect Cup the following week, Radcliffe forged the defining moment of the season as the Black and White’s varsity eight asserted its No. 1 ranking with another triumph over Princeton just two weeks after its victory in California. Radcliffe had not beat Princeton in back-to-back meetings at any time over the past three years. And to top the weekend off, the Black and White also defeated its other main rival in the regatta, Wisconsin, by almost ten seconds.

“Over the past three years, our team has been getting faster and faster,” Bates said. “We’ve definitely been gelling together as a team more and more.”

It is clear this combination of speed and chemistry has keyed the varsity eight’s success this year. But the main spark that has led to the Radcliffe’s assent to No. 1 can not be so readily seen—it takes place in the boathouse and at practice, not at its races.

“The people on the varsity eight haven’t changed this season,” freshman Rebekah Kharrazi said, “but having more people vying for spots and the internal competition has bred more success for the team.”

And the result of this is a team that is faster and more powerful—from top to bottom.

“Your boat is only as fast as the ninth person on the team,” Bates said. “You can’t rank people, so the strength of your team really depends on everyone performing at their best.”

The strength of the team has also come from its added depth. For example, last season at the Head of Charles, the Black and White only raced a varsity four. This year, the team raced a varsity eight and a varsity four.

The increased depth of the team has catalyzed the team’s transformation into this new, faster, top-ranked team.

“The success, I think, is mainly due to the depth,” Kharrazi said. “Last year was the first there was a real novice team, and it took a good year to build upon it, but its growth shows how the program has expanded over the years.”

Freshman like Kharrazi have also added to the depth, along with a strong returning sophomore class. Kharrazi herself is a starter on the varsity eight, a stellar feat for any first-year collegiate rower.

But Radcliffe members claim they do not want to rest on these positives. This weekend, as the Black and White travel to face Princeton for the third time this season, the team will not only face the No. 2 Tigers, but it will also have to handle a new force working against them: revenge.

Princeton will work to reassert its dominance over Radcliffe and gain back momentum heading into the Eastern Sprints with a victory at home this weekend.

But the Black and White is focused on overcoming both forces, for a third straight victory would solidify its place on top. The Black and White is not satisfied; in contrast, the squad is working even harder.

“We’ve been training with the mentality anything can happen,” Bates said.

Radcliffe is right where it wants to be—back on top—but that doesn’t mean the team can’t be beat. The team knows against Princeton it has to race its best.

“[The Tigers] will use revenge as an advantage as much as they can,” Kharrazi said. “We’re not invincible.”

—Staff writer Walter E. Howell can be reached at wehowell@fas.harvard.edu.

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