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The last time the Radcliffe lightweight crew and its Princeton counterpart squared off on the Cooper River in Camden, N.J., the outcome was determined in the blink of an eye.
The Tigers edged the Black and White by inches, crossing the line with just four tenths of a second to spare.
Three times the squads have squared off and three times Princeton has climbed out of its boat victorious—but not by much. Radcliffe’s largest margin of defeat was 2.1 seconds.
Needless to say, the Black and White is itching for another chance to race its Ivy rivals.
“I think that we’ve been close enough to them every time that we know we can beat them,” freshman Sarah Bates said. “I know this is our chance to show everyone that we’re faster than them.”
Proving that will be difficult however, as the nation’s top crew will be reluctant to relinquish its title.
But Sunday’s race will not be a two-boat competition as No. 3 Wisconsin plans to figure prominently in any outcome.
Earlier this season, Radcliffe handily defeated the Badgers’ boat by nine seconds. That was more than a month ago, and both teams were just beginning to get their feet wet. But the situation has certainly changed since then.
“We expect them to be a huge opponent,” co-captain Jessica Hertz said. “They’re a bit of an unknown [variable]. But they always come out to sprints pretty strong, so we’re expecting a strong showing.”
With no preliminary heats to wear it down, the Black and White will be able to channel all its energies into winning the single final race.
In preparation, Radcliffe’s boats have worked on cleaning up their technique, so that each stroke drains less energy while generating more power.
“We’ve been working a lot on not focusing on ratings so much as rowing cleaner technically and using our technique to be more powerful,” Bates said.
To do that, the squad has been focusing on the specific elements of its stroke.
“We’ve been focusing a lot on our catches which have gotten progressively better,” Hertz said. “And holding our finishes.”
But polishing technique, starts and closing sprints is one thing in practice and another in actual races.
To simulate the competition that the Sprints will inevitably offer, the Black and White has focused on racing against itself across skill levels. The practice has allowed recently reshaped boats to develop a bit more chemistry.
Junior Sylvia Yang dropped to the Varsity 4 ‘A’ boat following Radcliffe’s most recent match up against the Tigers, thrusting senior Katie Greenzang into her place.
Since then, the crew has reshuffled its seating positions, seating Hertz and junior Laura Spence in the seven and six seats, respectively, to clean up stroke technique on the starboard side.
“We have a bucket rig and I think it helps us follow each other better,” Bates said.
In the end though, Sprints may come down to neither technique nor seat positioning, but sheer strength of will.
“I think this time it’s just going to come down to whether we have that extra bit in us,” Bates said. “If we want it more than they do.”
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at email@example.com.
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