Radcliffe College may face an uncertain future, but Radcliffe crew knows exactly what lies ahead.
This weekend the varsity and lightweight crews travel to Lake Waramaug, Conn., for Eastern Sprints, taking on the region's best teams in a thrilling finale to the spring season.
For both teams, Sprints are the culmination of months of hard work, as well as a crucial step in the quest for national championships.
"Easterns is even a bigger prize than nationals," varsity captain Kate Tomford said. "Our region is incredibly strong, and it's always competitive to get to the finals."
Radcliffe varsity crew is currently ranked No. 2 in the NCAA Northeast Regional Rankings. A solid result at Sprints is necessary to maintain that position and qualify the team for the national championships, scheduled for May 28-30 in Sacramento, Calif.
The lightweight crew, while not affiliated with the NCAA, is also in the running for a national title. Champions in 1997, Radcliffe took second last year and hopes to reclaim the crown at this year's Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) Championships, to be held May 27-29 in Mt. Laurel, N.J.
"We'll be going to IRA's no matter what," lightweight captain Rebecca Marks said, "but Sprints will definitely affect our ranking."
Varsity Faces Tough Field
Sixteen teams--including squads from the Northeast and the Central regions--compete at Sprints, making it one of the most competitive events of the year. Radcliffe's main opponent in the morning heat will be No. 3 University of Virginia (UVA), a team they have not faced this season.
"Princeton beat UVA, and we lost to Princeton," Tomford said. "But you never know--margins seem to shorten at Sprints and it's always competitive."
Not to be overlooked, however, is No. 10 Navy--a team that turned in a very strong performance this fall--which will also row in the heat.
"They've been getting faster and faster all season," junior Anne Browning said.
In addition to the varsity race, the JV eight and first varsity four also must make the finals for Radcliffe to maintain its regional ranking and qualify as a team for nationals.
"All the boats are equally important," varsity coxswain Diane Marks (no relation to Rebecca) said.
The JV eight is ranked No. 4 by the EAWRC, and holds the No. 2 seed in the Northeast region.
"We're really excited," junior stroke Lydia Walsh said. "You can't take anything for granted, but we've been working really well together and are aiming to make the finals."
The varsity four, ranked No. 4 in the region, has had a strong year also, led by veteran stroke Angela Miklavcic.
"They've been doing really well," Tomford said. "Last year they got us the points that put us over the edge for nationals."
The format of Sprints--three heats of six boats, the top two from each moving on to finals--is different from the usual spring races that pit two or three teams against each other in head-to-head competition.
"It's an intense atmosphere," Browning said. "Mentally you have to be on the same page."
Coxswains in particular face a challenge with the crowded racecourse.
"It a different kind of discipline," Diane Marks said. "You can't expect to know exactly where you are all the time, so you have be more flexible with your race plan."
Rowers also must adjust to the new format.
"It's exciting at the start," Browning said. "Boats are always making moves and there's more to stay mentally on top of."
Tomford emphasized that focus and discipline are imperative for success.
"You really have to focus on your own boat and get tunnel vision," she said.
Lightweights Look to Regain Title
"We've really come together as a boat," Rebecca Marks said. "We've settled into a line-up and have several moves we can count on for a strong race."
The lightweight division is smaller, and will be decided in only one race. Radcliffe faces Princeton, UVA, and Wisconsin. Princeton is the favored boat, with the remaining crews evenly ranked among national polls.
Radcliffe has squared off against UVA twice this year, losing by .6 seconds each time.
"We've picked up speed since then," Rebecca Marks said. "With four boats, anything can happen."
The expanded race format of Sprints is also a factor for the lightweight crews.
"You have to keep the focus on your boat," Rebecca Marks said, "but it's nothing we haven't done before."
Despite the different formats for varsity and lightweight crews, Radcliffe teams are united in their pursuit of excellence.
"Lights and heavies are very supportive of each other," Rebecca Marks said. "We respect each other's strengths and have excellent team cohesion."
With strong team chemistry and impressive rankings, Radcliffe is ready to take on the region's best this weekend.
"The slate is cleared," Tomford said. "You never know what can happen on one particular day, especially this year. We have a great shot at winning it all."
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