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For the Radcliffe women's varsity crew team, there are two unfinished items to clear up at this weekend's Eastern Sprints.
First, Radcliffe has to beat B.U., and second, the Black-and-White has to knock off Princeton. The Eastern Sprints, held on Lake Waramaug in New Preston, Conn., represent the culmination of the regular season, and a last chance for Radcliffe to prove its prowess on the East Coast.
The women in black are approaching this conglomeration of East Coast crews-and Midwest champ Wisconsin-from a successful, though not perfect, season.
Radcliffe has taken four races by comfortable margins, losing only twice: once to the Terriers by one second, and once to the Tigers, by three seconds. Both losses were close enough that Radcliffe has a chance of making up the time at Sprints.
"We haven't rowed to our full potential so far this season," senior Aoibheann Sweeney said. "There are a lot of new people this year, and it has taken us a while to unite as a boat."
"I think we really needed some race experience to build our confidence in each other," Sweeney continued. "We had problems rallying for races because we would get too nervous to row a strong but relaxed race."
To overcome this anxiety, the boat has concentrated on rowing under race pressure this past week. The Black-and-White did short race pieces with the Boston Rowing Center, a national training team, as well as some with B.U.
Radcliffe managed to pull off one victory over B.R.C., though the national team hopefuls form a "pretty tough team" according to Sweeney. The pieces against B.U. forecasted a close match-up at Easterns, as Radcliffe and the Terriers were pretty even through-out the practice.
Princeton won Nationals last year, and the Tigers, not a favorite along the Charles River, are definitely the team to beat.
"Princeton is pretty cocky," Sweeney said, "but they have a surprise waiting for them. They don't realize how much we've improved since the beginning of the season, and they've never raced B.U."
"I think they're going to run into some serious trouble with the Charles River teams," Sweeney added.
The women have been rowing many of their races this season at uncontrollably high cadences, and one of the main focuses of the last weeks has been to develop the mental toughness to be able to row a high-powered, yet relaxed, race.
"I think it's to our benefit that we're going into Sprints as the underdogs," Sweeney said. "We have less to lose and more to gain than Princeton or B.U. We'll be rowing to get someone rather than just trying to row defensively. We can definitely win Sprints."
The junior varsity boat, after losing their second race of the season to Brown, backsplashed the rest of their competition, and are headed for Lake Waramaug with a 5-1 record.
Changes have been made since the Brown race, both in the Radcliffe JV and the Brown boat, which bodes well for the Black-and-White.
The Brown JV that Radcliffe faced in March was seven seconds faster than the Bruins's varsity boat. Since then, Brown has sorted out its first and second boats, so the Radcliffe JV will be facing a completely different boat at Sprints. The Radcliffe boat has made some changes as well.
"We've been getting faster every week since the first of the season," senior Rosie Hyson said.
Besides Brown, Radcliffe is keeping an eye open for Northeastern, who looked strong when the two teams did some practice pieces together Saturday. Wisconsin is also a wild card. Since none of the Eastern schools have raced against the Badgers yet, it is hard to judge how the champion from the weaker Midwest will fare against the race-tested Eastern crews.
Less Is More
The Radcliffe lightweight four, undefeated so far, is looking forward to the Sprints as a chance to prove themselves against some real competition. The hardest part of Radcliffe's season has been finding good lightweight squads to race against. For the most part, the Black-and-White has won its races by open water, leaving opponents well behind by the first 500m mark.
University of Rhode Island offered Radcliffe their first close race, and, as senior Joy Kingston said, "it was a little scary having a boat next to us the whole race."
Along with U.R.I., Radcliffe will have the chance to face McGill, a lightweight team from Canada. One of the Canadian women was a finalist at the CRASH-B indoor rowing championships this year, so McGill has a strong, if not necessarily fast, team.
"It should be great," Kingston said. "We weren't racing well together at the beginning of the season, but we've really come together lately. It would be satisfying to race, and beat, some good crews this weekend."
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