Yale overcame some late-season stumbles, while Brown overcame some early season stumbles, en route to the NCAA Championship today, but in the end both produced stellar performances to repeat as the Varsity 8 and Team champions, respectively.
In the V8, just two weeks after faltering in the final stretch of the Eastern Sprints, Yale burst through to the lead in only the final 300 meters and won pulling away over Stanford, which had led the field race-long in a tight field - it wasn't until well into the final 500 meters that there was more than a length separating all six boats. Brown started out just at the back of the pack, and then edged into the lead in the third 500 for a few hundred meters; they didn't quite have the juice to stay there, although they did hold off a surging Cal crew in the final strokes, who were followed by Washington and Michigan State.
After his crew took their second V8 title in as many years, Yale coach Will Porter admitted the squad felt a bit more pressure this year than last, despite not having come into the event undefeated, as they did last year.
"Last year we were just riding high on the season, and there was less internal pressure on the team to win, because we had never done it before, so anything we did was great," he said. "This year, if we didn't win, it might have felt a little like we had fallen short."
Porter noted that the crew's losses to Brown in the last race of the regular season, and again at Sprints, were "very frustrating losses, but I was proud that the crew just kept working hard to improve coming into the NCAAs." Porter said that the squad did not make any drastic changes, or do anything special in training, but thought that a few key factors were falling into place. "You know that learning to stroke a boat is a really different job than just learning to row, and our stroke, Taylor Ritzel, who is a sophomore, really started to mature and to learn to stroke the boat in a race setting at the end of the year. We have a sophomore coxswain as well, and a young boat in general, and they learned how to race at a varsity level."
With only one senior in the boat, Jamie Redman - "yes, only one senior, but she's good," said Porter - Porter hoped that his squad continued to learn new tricks this weekend. "I hope we can come back to NCAA's even better as a team," he said. "I think it was a learning experience for our lower boats, and that's the challenge here; you have to do a lot of work to do well enough to win the team championship."
Asked what made this year's squad unique from among the program's six total national champion squads, Brown coach John Murphy was characteristically circumspect: "I don't know if this is extremely different from all of our previous teams, but the defining characteristic of this team is that they like to race," he said. And you can't deny it; this is a crew that has taken almost every race they have won in at 38 strokes per minute for most of the last third of the race. "They really went after it today, and they had to; it was an exceptional race, one of the closest finals we've ever had."
Back in March, Phoebe and John plotted out a route to the championship on van ride home from a race against Michigan State and Princeton in which Brown seemed very much off their usual standard. "It was a long ride home for us in the van, and we started planning our next steps," he said. Did they think then they would find themselves as national championships in June? "Well, we thought it was possible, and hoped so, but couldn't be sure." Two frosh were brought up to the varsity - "everyone had already done it, and we couldn't face getting punished all season long, so it was time to do it," he said. "The team came back on Monday with a new resolve, and they started to get better. I'm very proud of all of the boats; they really did well against some very good competition."
In the team championship, Brown was followed by Washington with the turnaround of the month as well as the year, California, and Yale.
In the DII racing, Western Washington achieved an unprecedented fourpeat in both the varsity eight and the team championship, winning both the eight and four by open water rowing away.
"I think it's just amazing," said WWU coach John Fuchs after the medal ceremony. "Especially for the seniors, who started all this in '05 and kept it going for us for four years." There are four seniors in the varsity, and one in the four. "Four of them are undefeated against DII competition; now they have done it all, just run the gamut. It's flabbergasting what a great job they have done together."
And when they are gone? "I think we have a good group coming back," Fuchs said. "I was really impressed with the four this weekend; they were all in the JV 8 until the WIRA, and then we did a lot of selection, so they only had four-five practices together before coming here. There are three frosh in the four, and I think everyone has learned what it takes. A lot will depend on the off-season, what they do to be ready for next year."
And so women's collegiate rowing heads into the summer break; but not before our traditional observations from the edges.
The UW four faced down a tough challenge from the field, and it didn't come easy; the stroke of the crew paid perfectly good money for that breakfast, and didn't even get to keep all of it. If you know what I mean.
It was an even tougher go for the five seat of the Ohio State 2V, who won a silver medal; as the crew was passing the finish line audience, when the boat came to a stop she passed out cold and flopped into the water. And this one wasn't a brief wilting, but a bonafide and extended conkout; after they dragged her over the gunwales into a zodiac and drove back to the dock, she was still completely out cold. She looked okay on the medals dock, tho!
Meanwhile, the Dowling six seat flopped over the gunwales again this weekend; getting almost workaday in that seat!
Both the Ohio State and Tennessee crews had great performances in the grand final of the 2V while their 1Vs struggled in the third level final. In the end the OSU 2V actually beat their 1V on time on the day in races that were only 15 minutes apart; Tennessee's varsity topped their 2V by a couple seconds.
Finally, a sign of the times: instead of a peloton, the coaches at the NCAA gathered, dissipated, and gathered again repeatedly in a tense gallery in front of the Jumbotron just inside the athlete's compound.
MORE QUOTES: POST-CHAMPIONSHIP NOTES AND QUOTES
• Brown wins its sixth NCAA Division I Rowing team championship and second straight.
• Brown won the Division I Second Eights Grand Final and placed third in both the Eights and Fours Grand Finals to earn 67 total points in the team competition.
• Washington earned 59 points to place second in the team championship standings by winning the Division I Fours Grand Final.
• Host California completed competition with 53 points to place third in the overall team standings.
• For the second consecutive year, Yale won the Division I Eights title with Brown claiming the team title.
• Stanford, an at-large eight selection, nearly won the Division I Eights Grand Final out of lane six, falling to champion Yale by just 0.90 seconds.
• No boat in a Grand Final event at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center has ever won out of anything but lane one or lane two.
Brown Head Coach John Murphy
On what distinguishes this Brown crew from the NCAA field:
"This group really likes to race. They went out there and went after it. Not that the others didn't, but I felt really good about them. I don't think any of the championships we've won stand out above any of the others. Each one is unique and greatly appreciated on its own."
On what he expected out of today's Division I Eights Grand Final:
"We knew that Yale was going to come back after us. I think Yale and Stanford rowed exceptionally well, as did California, Washington and Michigan State. That was one of the closest races I've seen."
On how difficult it is to repeat as a national champion:
"We go one at a time. What happened in the past is in the past and each year is a new start. You hope for the best and try your hardest. I don't think we thought about whether it is hard to do or not. We strive to be the best each and every time we get on the water."
Brown Senior Coxswain Sarah Wu
On winning a second straight NCAA Championship:
"It's the best feeling in the world. Something that's unique to Brown crew is that we really value our team. We don't value boat by boat. We value our whole team. Coming to nationals and be able to be recognized by that is something that we definitely appreciate."
On facing the other Division I Eights competition at NCAA Championships:
"It was nerve-wracking going into it, definitely on Friday, not having any idea how fast they'd be. But once we became more comfortable racing West Coast teams it started to become less of a mental block and more of a fact that we knew we needed to beat them."
On the Brown coaches:
"I always say that John and also Phoebe Murphy are the best of the best. They really inspire our team by just being the admirable people that they are. The team always just wants to impress them. That's one of the things that makes our team as fast as it is – we always want our coaches to really be proud of us."
Brown Senior Stroke Emma Olson
On winning Brown's second straight NCAA team championship:
"It feels great. I'm just really proud of all of us. We're really happy to come away with another championship. And it's my senior year, so it's a good end note. I'm sad that it's all over but happy that it ended this way."
On the varsity eight Grand Final:
"We were excited to have such strong competition and we pushed it to the end."
On which NCAA title feels better – 2007 or 2008:
"I could say that this is better. It's fun to come out to the West Coast. You're in a different place. It's exciting to come to California and it's exciting to go to NCAA's no matter where it is. This one was especially satisfying."
Yale Head Coach Will Porter
On winning the Division I Eights title for the second-straight year:
"We knew it was going to be a tight race based on all the great crews that were in there. Our strategy was just to stay internal and do what we've been doing. I thought if we just do what we know that we can do, that we could get an opening and then take our shot. It took a lot of maturity and patience to just wait and wait but they seized it when they got their chance."
On edging out Stanford in the Grand Final:
"I preferred getting seeded in lane one. We raced for it. We won our heat and then we won our semi and we were trying to be in at least that second lane for that final. I think what Stanford did out of lane six was amazing."
Yale So. Taylor Ritzel
On overcoming Stanford at the end of the Division I Eights Grand Final:
"It wasn't a race that I was expecting to win and especially in that last 100 meters, Stanford really stood out there. The race was everything you could ask for in a race. There are no guarantees at the NCAA's and I was really impressed with all the other schools and what they all had to offer. I didn't know what the result was in the end because it was so tight so I was just sitting there wondering."
On the call of the coxswain coming into the finish line area:
"She was just focusing on Brown, next to us. We had raced them throughout our season. So just seat for seat and stroke for stroke, we wanted to do our best to keep pace with whoever was right next to us. She really kept us motivated in the end to make that final push."
Yale So. Mia Kanak
On the Division I Eights Grand Final:
"Brown and Yale have been battling it out all season. We lost to them twice this year so coming into the final 700 meters, I was telling my girls, 'it's us and them. Don't let them do this to you again!' Stanford out of lane six from my point of view could have been a seat up or a seat down. I didn't know honestly. It was really exciting to be able to pull out the win right at the end and that really pumps me up for next season."
On coach Porter's preparation for today's races:
"He always tells us that our goal is not to win but to have our best piece. He encourages us to just have our best row ever, every time we get out on the water. I think since we're not as focused on the end result and focused on what we're doing at the moment, it helps us do our jobs to the best of our abilities. Today, that made a big different for us right in those last moments."
Western Washington Head Coach John Fuchs
On winning the championship:
'After the first heat, we felt like we had an advantage on the field but you come to this event and you know everybody is going for it. We didn’t take anyone for granted. I think after the heats, we felt like if we raced our race, we would win.'
On extending the Western Washington championship dynasty:
'We’ll see. We have a good group returning again and the seniors have laid the ground work. The four had three freshmen in it including the coxswain. I think the longer we do this, the better we will work.'
Western Washington Senior Staci Reynolds
On having never lost to a Division II opponent:
'We’ve had our fair share of losses against Division I schools but having never lost to another Division II school, I’d have to say it’s been a pretty phenomenal career.'
On how the crew prepared for today’s races:
'We just put in the hard work every day and today was no different. We wanted to come prepared to row hard and we did.'
Western Washington Senior Samantha Marikis
On dominating Division II this year:
'I feel like we have a really solid program even though we have lost before. We entered Pac-10s and had our butts handed to us, though every time we raced in the regattas before this, we were very solid. I don’t know why we dominated other than we have a lot of heart and a lot of dedication and everyone on the team is out for the same reason.'
On head coach John Fuchs:
'He really helps set the tone because he keeps us calm but confident at the same time. We have to be reminded occasionally to take a deep breath and realize all the work we put in, because obviously the regatta’s show all the work we put in. But really, we know in the back of our heads that every day at four in the morning, these girls are up for an hour and a half in the water when no one is watching.'
On competing at Lake Natoma prior to NCAA’s:
'It’s fantastic for our program first of all to even compete in the Pac-10s. We raced the best of the best. That’s the only real way to know where you stand. I hope that we continue to enter regattas like that. I think it’s really helpful to have all the regattas here in Sacramento because it’s like our second home. This is our third time being here in May. We know everything. We know the course. We know when the wind picks up. It’s really comfortable.'
Western Washington Senior Metta Gilbert
On competing at Lake Natoma prior to NCAA’s:
'It helped a lot. It’s kind our home away from home. We come down here every year at least twice and this year we came down three times, so it’s a really great feeling for our team.'
On the future for Western Washington:
'It’s definitely an end of an era for me. I think the team is in a really awesome spot. They’re going to be successful for a real long time. We have a whole team full of strong rowers. I’m excited to watch them in the next few years. I’ll definitely always be a Viking.
On the end of her college career:
'It’s been hitting me for the past couple of weeks in waves and it’s going to be hitting me for at least a year. It’s pretty sad right now, because it’s been my life for the past four years, our life for the past four years. I’ve been with the same four girls all four years. When you’re a team of nine girls training together and our extended team of 40 girls, we definitely spend a lot of time together. It’s really emotional, but it’s been four of the best and four of the happiest years of my life.'
On how this NCAA title compares to past three:
'They’re all great. The first one was a shock. We were freshmen, and that swept us off our feet. Here, it was a lot more mellow. I was a lot more calm. That just comes from three years of being in this same exact position before.'
We hope you have enjoyed our coverage this weekend, and season-long.