Radcliffe lightweight crew ended its season this past weekend with a strong showing at the 108th Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) National Championships on the Cooper River in Camden, N.J.
After getting through very competitive opening heats, both the varsity eight and varsity four boats finished their respective grand finals in fourth place, one position shy from medaling for the Black and White.
“I’m very pleased with how the team performed,” Radcliffe coach Heather Cartwright said. “Considering the level of competition, I thought that we did quite well. We have a young team, with just two seniors competing in the two boats and a lot of freshmen returning.”
“There was definitely a lot of tough competition at the regatta, so we didn’t set concrete goals in terms of placing,” sophomore coxswain Jana Douglas said. “We were focused on just trying to have our best race. Unfortunately, we didn’t medal, but all you can control is what you can do in your own boat. In terms of that, everybody was pleased with how it turned out.”
The Black and White’s journey to the IRA National Championships began three weeks ago at the Eastern Sprints, where the varsity eight and varsity four took the bronze and silver medals, respectively. More impressively, every rower on the team reached the medal stand, a feat that no other lightweight team can claim this season.
Radcliffe entered the opening heat of the Championships last Friday hoping that momentum would carry over from its successful performance at Sprints.
While the varsity four had no problem qualifying for the finals with a second-place finish, the varsity eight took a longer route to the championship round, relying on a victory in the repechage after failing to qualify in the opening heat.
“We didn’t get into a rhythm like we normally do,” Douglas said. “We went out a bit too high on the stroke rate, so we had to lengthen our stroke a bit in the repechage.”
“We had a big target on our back in the heat,” Cartwright said. “Georgetown was charging for us, and we didn’t have our best race in the heat. I was very proud of how our girls were able to finish two races [on Friday], especially in 90-degree heat.”
“Obviously, it’s not ideal to race twice before the grand final,” Douglas added. “But it was something we had to do—buckle down and get through it. There’s so much adrenaline at that point that you don’t really feel the pain until a little bit later.”
Due to its performance in the opening heat, the varsity eight was slotted to the sixth lane in the final round. Without much tailwind and other such advantages as the other lanes, the boat, in fifth place for much of the first half of the race, was able to rally ahead of both Georgetown and Bucknell to finish fourth with a time of 6:43.715.
“The fact that the boat came in fourth in lane six was very good,” Cartwright said. “We held our ranking and they had their best race today. I think that the team is satisfied with how it performed and is hungry to get a medal next year.”
Wisconsin, the two-time defending champion, was dethroned as Stanford upset the top-seeded Badgers with a 6:28.209 finish.
Meanwhile, members of the varsity four rowed together for only the second time in the finals.
The Black and White started the race in sixth place but was able to claw its way back to fifth by passing Georgetown in the second 500 meters. Radcliffe then set its eyes on Stanford. With just 20 strokes to go, the boat pulled barely ahead of the Cardinal to cross the finish line three-tenths of a second ahead of Stanford with a time of 7:44.569.
“Every stroke was a learning experience for them,” Cartwright said. “The girls have really worked hard together.”
With two fourth-place finishes in hand, the Black and White will hope to build on its successful dual campaign as it prepares for the upcoming season.
“We certainly have the talent returning, and we have a great freshman class coming in,” Cartwright said. “The goal is to move from where we are now to where we’re contending for a national championship. Changes have already been made this year with Stanford and Loyola winning the national championships [in the varsity eight and varsity four]. So why not us next year?”