Eastern Sprints will be a test.
For the Radcliffe lightweights, it will be a challenge to reassert its lost number one ranking.
And for the heavyweights, Sunday will determine if the team’s streak of eight straight NCAA championship births continues.
Both squads simply hope they can pass.
Over the past eight seasons, the Radcliffe heavyweights have received a bid to the NCAA Championships—to which only 12 teams are invited annually—an unprecedented modern run.
This year, however, the streak is in jeopardy, as the heavyweights have lost four straight regattas and post a No. 18 ranking in the country. Without a medal finish at Sprints, the Black and White will likely end its season at Eastern Sprints instead of the NCAA’s for the first time in nine years.
“Of course we are thinking about the streak—we don’t want the season to end at Eastern Sprints,” heavyweight senior Laura Martin said. “We have to show that we are capable of racing with the best.”
It would be a tough end for a varsity eight that placed third in the NCAA’s last year and sixth as a team.
Changes made in the past two weeks will hopefully reverse this free fall. After numerous alterations in the makeup of the varsity eight as a result of seat racing throughout the week, the team now feels it has the fastest boat possible. Combined with the return of junior Katie Golden from injury, the crew hopes it is poised to medal on Sunday.
“We’ve made a lot of good progress in practice,” Martin said. “We finally have a boat that we know has great speed, and with the speed we have, we definitely have a shot to attain a medal.”
While the heavyweights are on the outside looking in, the Radcliffe lightweight crew has been at the top almost the entire season. But after a loss to Princeton two weeks ago followed by a slide to a No. 2 ranking, the Black and White finds itself in a familiar place going into sprints—as the underdog.
Yet, the results speak otherwise. After beating Princeton twice this season and defeating Wisconsin at the Knecht Cup, Radcliffe comes into Sprints with a confidence it can beat the best. The weekend provides an excellent opportunity to capitlize on these skills.
“Last year, there were no expectations,” lightweight co-captain Ashley Antony said. “Now there is an exciting chance to come in first that is fueling us.”
In 2004, after winning Eastern Sprints, the lightweights fell to Wisconsin and Princeton for the first time, and finished third at the IRAs. Last year, Radcliffe fell behind the Badgers and the Tigers at Sprints and the IRA nationals, placing third in the varsity eight in both events. The team will be looking to break this three-championship slide and vault its boat back to number one on Sunday.
“It would mean a lot to get the victory over Princeton,” lightweight co-captain Sarah Bates said. “And we’ve done all the preparation we can to make this happen.”
The preparation has been intense from top to bottom. The improved depth of the lightweight squad will put the team in the running for the Willing Point Trophy, which is awarded to the best overall team on the river. With a deeper program giving Radcliffe a novice eight and two lightweight fours in addition to its varsity four, the trophy is in the team’s sights.
“The depth of the team has definitely added to our success,” Bates said. “And now the goal is to win or medal in every event.”
And the depth is also a catalyst for the team’s achievement—something the team will use to motivate itself over Princeton after the defeat two weeks ago.
“Each boat has shown a lot of potential,” Antony said. “That is really pushing the entire team forward because every person is getting something in to help the team.”
Regardless of outsiders’ views, Radliffe possesses a quiet confidence-- the team knows that if all goes as planned, it can show Princeton, Wisconsin, and the rest of the boats on the river that it has the skills to stand atop the podium.
“We’re okay with having targets on our backs or with being the underdogs,” Antony said. “We can mold the situation and have it motivate us, whatever it is, because it is on us.”
—Staff writer Walt E. Howell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.