While most of the nation depends upon Punxatawney Phil to herald the arrival of spring, Radcliffe's crew operates independently of any groundhog logic.
Winter weight workouts combined with mid-February training on a barely thawed Charles River highlight the Black and White's efforts to hasten both the vernal equinox and boat finishes. A winter's worth of hard work could prove the deciding factor in the success of this year's women's crews come April.
"People feel we have more at stake this year because we've gotten our asses kicked this winter by each other and by our coaches," senior heavyweight captain Sara Simmons said. "Everyone's been pushing each other really hard."
"The whole winter was focused on the problems we had last year--problems with endurance, problems with flexibility, problems with strength," sophomore lightweight crew member Layla Adolphson said. "We are going into the spring more confident."
Despite the fact that the lightweight four returns only two rowers and is under new coaching, the Black and White is hoping to build on the success of last season's second place finish at nationals.
"We've been in the boat for about a week and we are just trying to get used to each other," senior lightweight captain Susannah Thayer said. "We are working on technique and trying to build speed. We have a different boat this year so it's a matter of becoming as fast as we were last year and hopefully faster."
The heavyweight eight--under an interim coach (Liz O'Leary recently gave birth)--is also looking to improve upon last year's result, which saw the Black and White finish fourth at Eastern Sprints.
"If we can medal at sprints that will be a significant accomplishment, but I think that's totally within our grasp," Simmons said. "We're trying to set our sights more on nationals as our final race."
"We're not willing to make excuses," junior heavyweight stroke Laura Brookins said. "We're going to put it on the line with every race."
Although the heavyweight and lightweight crews have experienced different levels of success in the past, both teams agree that Radcliffe's spring break trip to San Diego on April 1-2 will be an early season testing ground.
"We won't really know where we have to go until we've raced," senior heavyweight Jamie Flatt said. "The trip to San Diego should serve as a good reference point."
"San Diego is going to be a good testing ground to see how the boat is moving and what we need to work on for the rest of the season," junior lightweight Sophie Bryan said.
After San Diego, the heavyweight crew will face its toughest individual competitions on April 15 against Princeton and on April 29 against archrival Yale.
Boston College on April 23 should prove to be the lightweight's stiffest competition before it faces reigning national champions Fordham at the Eastern Sprints.
With the spring crew season rapidly approaching, the Radcliffe women are not concerned with anyone's shadow, but rather with whom they will leave in their wake.