After finishing as the runners-up to the national title five of the past six years, Bates crew became known as the "bridesmaids." Today, the Bobcats shed that title and took on a new one – National Champions. It was a truly historical day for the team; not only did they win the first ever NCAA rowing title for their school, but they won the first ever NCAA team title in Bates College history.
The morning started strong for Bates with a win in the 2V8 – a crew that has remained undefeated all season (and last season as well). After Wellesley pushed them in the heat yesterday, the Bobcats knew they had to bring their strongest race in order to win. They maintained their lead the whole way down the course to take the win with a time of 7:05.465 with Wellesley following at 7:07.431 and Trinity in third with a time of 7:13.191.
"This race was exactly what we wanted," said 2V coxswain Abby Bierman. "We went out and executed exactly to our game plan.
"Props to Wellesley, they definitely gained some speed over the past few weeks which was fun for us. It was fun to be able to go out there and have a good race," she added.
Although there was lot of excitement from the 2V, the women were anxious to watch their varsity teammates race. Although the Bates varsity eight won New Englands and ECACs against Trinity, the Bantam crew posted the fastest time in the heats on Friday; Bates was reminded of Trinity's NCAA win last year, and haunted by their own fourth place finish.
"Our biggest concern going into it was that we'd be nervous about [Trinity] being up and that it would be faltering and we wouldn't stay strong," said Bates V8 stroke Becky O'Neill. "We have four seniors in the boat including myself, and we wanted to make sure we were leaving on the best note possible."
Trinity took an early lead off the line, and stayed at the front of the pack for the entirety of the varsity eight race. Bates stayed close behind, falling 7 seats back by the middle of the race, but maintaining contact for the majority of the two thousand meters. Trinity was on fire, storming down the course to gain their second consecutive varsity 8 NCAA win with a time of 6:54.576; Bates came in second at 6:57.786, and Hamilton took the third place spot with a time of 7:02.529.
Trinity, lead by head coach Wesley Ng, picked up a lot of speed over the past three weeks after they came in third at ECACs behind Williams and Bates.
"It was a great last three weeks of preparation," Ng said. "They got really focused and were able to make some great moves. When we started training for the NCAAs, one of the good points I saw was that people starting coming early to practice and that usually is a good sign that they're in the right mindset.
"We graduated sixteen seniors from last year's crew and there was only one returner from last year's varsity. This was a totally new experience for them to step up," he added.
Trinity celebrated on the finish line, but their win became bittersweet when they realized Bates had won the points trophy – and conversely, Bates' disappointment with second place was sweetened when they learned of their team win.
"One person figured out we won the points trophy and started crying a bit – she told us, 'We just won a national championship,'" said Bierman, who was watching the race with her 2V teammates. "We thought she was talking about our race but she said 'No, we just did it…we just won the points!'"
Even Bates head coach Peter Steenstra was taken by surprise when he learned that Bates had won the national title.
"I have to admit I didn’t have the points sheet with me and I guess I just automatically assumed that when you finish second in the varsity and first in the second varsity, and the competition finishes first and third, then you tie and the win goes to the winner of the varsity eight, but it turns out we were up by one point. It was pretty exciting," he said.
The team celebrated wildly; hugs and tears, cheers and laughs abounded as the whole team was united on the landing beach. After so many years of the national title being just out of reach, they could finally celebrate like victors. The celebrations weren't confined to California; when the school back home learned of the Bates win, they interrupted the Baccalaureate service to announce the historical win to the senior class, who erupted into applause.
The excitement didn't stop with the winners; for Hamilton, the bronze is an incredibly huge accomplishment – just a few weeks ago the crew didn’t even know if they would be selected for their first ever NCAA team appearance, and today they crossed the finish line gaining their first NCAA trophies. Along with their 2V8 win in the petite final, the whole team took home the fourth place team points trophies.
"I don't think anyone had ever dreamed we would make it this far and to bring the whole team to NCAAs was a dream come true," said senior Karly Moore. "We had been talking as a team that if we go to California we were going to do it right, we were going to put everything out there. I think both boats really brought it and gave the best performance we could have."
"Sometimes you just get the group that works really well together," said Hamilton head coach Robert Weber. "The whole is greater than the sum of the parts."
The level of racing amongst DIII women is only increasing as demonstrated by Hamilton's third place finish, by Bates' first time win, by Trinity's second place points finish after graduating so many seniors. It feels like every year there is more depth among DIII teams, and it seems an increasing number athletes are going to Division III schools to compete – not just as an alternative to DI programs.
It was an exciting and historical day of racing for all the crews – and it'll be a hard twelve months of training ahead before they meet again for the 2016 NCAA championships.