Radcliffe Crew Opens Fall Season at Head of the Housatonic

Radcliffe crew opens its fall season this weekend at the Head of the Housatonic in Shelton, Conn., competing in eights, fours, and pairs. The heavyweight and lightweight boats will face off against crews such as UMass, Williams, Brown, and rival Yale, among others.

As the first regatta of the season, the race has a more relaxed atmosphere to it, according to Radcliffe coach Liz O’Leary. A 2.7-mile head race as opposed to the spring’s 2000-meter head to head, this weekend presents the Black and White with an opportunity for many boats—and as a result, many members of both teams—to  race.

“We are trying to get as much of our team as possible out on the race,” O’ Leary said.

The course on the Housatonic River, one of Yale’s home courses along with the Thames River, is situated between two dams in Indian Well State Park. This year marks the 18th annual race.

Both the light and heavyweight boats for Radcliffe finished last season very strongly and return major parts of their lineups.

To cap off its 2011-12 season, the lightweight first varsity eight earned a bronze at the Eastern Sprints, considered the championships for lightweight crew. In an exciting finish, the fourth-ranked Black and White edged out then top-ranked Wisconsin to medal in the prestigious event.

The success was not limited to the 1V alone. The second eight won the first gold for Radcliffe at the race in half a decade, and the novice boat earned bronze as well.

The Radcliffe lightweights return six rowers from last year’s first varsity boat and a majority of the girls returning to the second varsity boat as well.

The lightweight Black and White will send two eights, two fours, and two doubles to this weekend’s regatta. As the only lightweight team in the open regatta, the Black and White will face stiffer competition than it will for much of the remainder of the year.

“Hopefully we can get a top-10 finish with the [first varsity eight]. That would be a very good finish for us,” said Radcliffe lightweight coach Michael Bartman.

The race is one of the few times both Black and White crews can go head-to-head. Once the spring comes, the races are no longer open.

Like its lightweight counterpart, the Radcliffe heavyweight first varsity eight also finished last year on a high note with a victory in the first-ever Ivy Championships. Seeded fifth, the Black and White finished 2.6 seconds ahead of second-place Cornell and four seconds behind top-seeded Princeton.

The heavweights boast a large senior class, with 13 rowers in their final year. According to O’Leary, they have formed the core of a strong base this season.

“One notable thing [about our team is] a big, strong, dynamic senior class,” Coach O’leary fondly stated.  “I look to them for leadership and setting the tone.”

The large senior class will not prevent underclassmen from earning experience, though, as a number of seniors are currently studying abroad or nursing injuries.

Last year at the Housatonic, the Radcliffe Heavyweights split with Yale. While the Radcliffe 2V topped Yale’s second boat, the Black and White 1V finished behind the Bulldogs first eight before avenging that loss in the Ivy League Championships.

Two weekends later, both teams will compete in the Head of the Charles the major spectacle for rowing in the Boston area. The event attracts nearly 9,000 athletes and 300,000 spectators to the Charles River annually and is the largest two-day regatta in the world.

“Head of Housatonic is used to get into the racing rhythm for Head of the Charles,” Bartman said.

For both teams, the Housatonic serves as a starting block for the rest of the year. No matter the result, the teams will have ample to improve until the championships at year’s end.

“The [Head of the Housatonic] is in October, [and] the Ivy Championships are in May. That’s a long time,” O’Leary said, calling the Housatonic gentle introduction into “a long and strenuous season.”