The few who follow women’s lightweight crew understand the nature of the sport in which anything can happen.
With a field that is growing by the year, as more and more schools put out varsity eights to compete, the sport is wide open, and surprise finishes are beginning to become the norm.
Never was this more evident than on Saturday at the IRA women’s national championships.
Moving out of obscurity and into the national spotlight, the Bucknell Bisons won their first-ever national title, winning the lightweight Grand Finals with a 3.5-second victory over Princeton.
The Bisons’ unexpected victory proved just enough to bump the Black and White off the medal stand, dropping Radcliffe to a fourth-place finish behind Bucknell, Princeton, and Wisconsin.
Only a year after Georgetown vaulted into national prominence with a second-place showing at these IRAs, Bucknell did this and more on Saturday.
Before this year, the Bisons’ best result at IRAs was a sixth-place showing in the event.
“Both this year and last year, there have been surprises in the final heat,” co-captain Jennifer Chung said. “Last year, it was Georgetown, and they came out of nowhere to take second place.”
And the victory was all the more shocking considering who Bucknell beat—a powerhouse Tigers crew, the two-time national champion Badgers, and a Radcliffe crew, which had medaled at IRAs six years running.
Things appeared promising for the Black and White when racing began on Friday.
The crew beat out Sprints champion and No. 1 seed Wisconsin to win its semifinal heat with a time of 6:43.50.
Yet, on Saturday, when it mattered most, the crew fell just short, finishing 2.9 seconds off Wisconsin’s third-place pace.
But while the weekend is a disappointment on some levels, the Black and White showed that although the team struggled to find victories this season, the crew can still race with the best in the nation.
Finishing just out of the medal picture demonstrates the squad’s talent—for this year and in the years to come. Radcliffe moved numerous freshmen from its novice eight boat, which won gold at Eastern Sprints, into the varsity eight for the IRAs.
So instead of completing their season at Eastern Sprints—as many may have expected—several rookies extended their years, making a significant contribution to the varsity’s fourth-place finish on Saturday.
And just as Radcliffe’s crew is now on the rise, so the rest of the sport is following suit.
This leaves the Black and White with one more task: making sure it can keep up.
“No one was expecting Bucknell to win,” Chung said. “But it’s exciting that lightweight crew is growing in general.”
—Staff writer Walter E. Howell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.