As is tradition at the NCAA Championships, the DIII champion is crowned on day two of the regatta, while the D1 and D2 crews have to wait until Sunday for a winner. As such, we have our first NCAA champions of 2014 as a silver in the 2V and a cannily earned gold in the 1V lifted Trinity to take the NCAA Team Trophy this morning.
It was another lovely day at Eagle Creek, and though there was a bit of a headwind, it wasn't enough to really stir up the water too much or make for adverse racing conditions. The championship races were the last of the morning as the DIII fans and parents took over the front lines along the shore to see their charges come down the course.
The second varsity grand final was comprised of the Bates, Trinity, Wesleyan and Williams crews who have all raced one another multiple times this season, most recently at ECACs just a few weeks ago. The undefeated Bates crew took an early lead and opened up to race the majority of the course with open water. The commentator mentioned a few times that the coxswain was continuing to check for crews coming from behind, and questioned whether or not she would feel comfortable at any point during the race to no longer look behind; in a word: no.
"There was definitely a point where I knew we were able to win, but I never wanted to let our guard down or get comfortable," said Bates coxswain Molly Huffaker.
Six-seat Taylor Kniffin added, "Something about this boat is that we never get complacent in our races, which I think we have Molly to credit for because she will always underestimate our distance open."
The crew clearly did not become complacent as they continued to open water and win by an impressive 11 seconds, followed by Trinity, Wesleyan, and Williams.
For the Wesleyan boat, medaling at the NCAA Championships was a major feat, as they have not been to the championships since 2001.
"It has taken a lot of hard work and it has put everyone in the team through a lot but getting to grand finals was a huge accomplishment, and it look a little bit for us to recognize that we belong here," said 2V coxswain Ari Rudess. "But now we do and I don't feel like there is any turning back."
The spectator area was packed as everyone waited anxiously for the first varsity crews to come down the course. The 2V races were over and not only would the 1V champion bask in their own glory, but they would also be crucial to contributing points toward the team champion. After a stunning performance at the ECAC regatta, and really a great season overall, the Bates crew was a favorite coming into the race. Their 2V had just won minutes earlier, and if the 1V could win they would pull themselves out of what is now a five-year second place streak. The race began and the Bobcats came out for a strong start, leading the pack by one second through the 1000m mark. As they approached the last 500, the Williams crew cranked it up and began to edge out Bates. Trinity and Wellesley followed and soon they began to move through Bates as well. The Trinity boat cranked it up for a pretty amazing sprint that left their fans elated, and everyone else dumbfounded. Trinity was followed by Williams, Wellesley, Bates, and Washington College.
As yesterday's report mentioned, this 6-boat final was made up of the same crews as the ECAC final; today the finish places were very different from just a few weeks ago. Many coaches commented that if the race had been done many more times, the results would continue to vary. This is the NCAA however, and whoever brings it on race day goes home the champion.
The Trinity boat had won the New England Championships at the beginning of May, but came in third to Bates and Williams the next week at ECACs—the last race before NCAAs. The crew had to make some changes in order to get themselves in the finishing position they were looking for.
"Although we hadn't done it recently, we knew we could do it like we did at New England's," said coxswain Gwen Shoch. "It was nice to come to NCAAs and not know who was going to win; that's what great racing really is."
"After ECACs we really had to re-focus," said head coach Wesley Ng. "We went back into even boats to get everyone thinking again, and made some line-up changes within the boat. They did a really great job getting through senior week and graduation which added to our energy; at ECACs we were going through exams and it really was a bit of a tough time."
Not only did the team re-focus in the past two weeks, but even after their NCAA heat they continued to analyze their performance and make necessary adjustments to their race plan.
"Last night after the heat we looked at all the Division I racing we had seen, and then we looked at what happened with our own crew, and we knew it wasn’t our best; we were a little high," ," said Ng. "Today we committed to sticking to our base early and that put us in fourth, but we knew we had room to go. We also said we want to be the first DIII school to execute a DI style sprint; they were good enough to have the mechanics to do it."
"We came off the start and we were down by a lot but we didn’t panic because we had anticipated that it was going to happen and we just put our heads down and went for it," said Trinity 6-seat Madeleine Boudreau.
For the first time in 8 years, Williams did not walk away with the team points trophy, and that really is a testament to the rising level of competitiveness within DIII rowing.
Williams Coach Kate Maloney, who rowed for four undefeated regular seasons at the University of Washington and raced on the USA National Team for four years including the 2000 Olympics, commented on how impressed she is with the level of racing saying, "In my own career, I've had very few races that look like what just unfolded here."
Though the results were not what the Ephs were hoping for, they did take home the second place points trophy and were able to celebrate their success in the perspective of this year's team.
"I couldn't be prouder of my 1V for taking the chance to put their nose out in front and go for it," Maloney said. "There's a significant portion of them and the 2v coming back and we're locked, loaded and looking to the future, but we are celebrating, absolutely celebrating, I couldn’t be prouder of the team."
With a win in the 1V and second place in the 2V, Trinity was crowned the 2014 NCAA DIII National Champions, and celebrate they did. The team ran into the water after the awards ceremony, splashing and cheering, and even convincing a slightly reluctant Coach Wes to join them in their waist-deep celebrations.
Following Trinity and Williams in the points was Bates in third (technically they tied for points with Williams, but the tiebreaker goes to whoever finishes higher in the 1V), and Wellesley in 4th thanks to their quick sprint and third place finish in the 1V.
While there were mixed emotions throughout the field today, no team went home entirely defeated. As the level of racing increases and the finish margins decrease, there are a lot of opportunities for crews to respond to challenges and improve their finish placements. The New England crews see one another so frequently that it will be fairly early in the fall when they have the chance to test one another again as they start their journey to the 2015 Championships.