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Women’s crew wins national championship

Sports Staff Writer
Thursday, June 2, 2011

There are very few dynasties in college sports history — UCLA men’s basketball under John Wooden, Alabama football under Paul “Bear” Bryant and Connecticut women’s basketball under Geno Auriemma. Brown women’s crew under Head Coach John Murphy added itself to that list by claiming its seventh NCAA title in 15 years Sunday by the narrowest of margins.

Both Brown and Stanford finished the three-day regatta held on Lake Natoma in Sacramento, Calif., with 85 points, forcing a tiebreaker. The first varsity eight grand final was to determine the champion, but Princeton posted the fastest time at 6:27.12. Though Brown finished in second place with a time of 6:28.62.05 — less than one second ahead of Stanford’s 6.28.67 — the showing was good enough to catapult the Bears past Stanford for the championship.

“I didn’t know what to think, actually,” Murphy said, recalling  the tense ending. “There were five boats all within a boat length and one not that far behind. I just watched and waited. It was a photo finish.”

Murphy credited the remarkable victory to his team. He said going into the deciding race, no dramatic speech was necessary to get his rowers fired up.

“They were very motivated, they saw the prize before them and they were determined to get it,” he said. “It was their desire to win that made the difference.”

Brown entered the championship ranked sixth in the country. After two days of racing, then-higher-seeded No. 1 Princeton and Pac-10 schools including No. 4 Stanford University and No. 5 University of Southern California were still favored to win. But Bruno came from behind to earn 45 points in the final race of the championship, giving the squad its first title since 2008. Stanford finished behind the Bears, and University of California at Berkeley clinched third place while Princeton secured a fourth-place finish despite earning the victory in the grand final.

“I thought we definitely had a chance, and I thought we were going faster than we had been at the Eastern sprints,” Murphy said. “But we were, you know, going up against the very top crews of the country. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, that’s for sure.”

Brown’s success in rowing is unparalleled by any other school in the country. Women’s rowing began Division I competition just 15 years ago, and since then, Brown has taken national titles in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2007, 2008 and now, 2011.  Harvard, which claimed the championship in 2003, remains the only other Ivy with a national title.

Murphy said the win is one the program will not soon forget. But the squad is already looking ahead to prepare for its title defense next year.

“(We’ve) got to row a little better, be a little fitter,” Murphy said. “Again, the competition is only going to get tougher, and there’s some excellent programs out there. We have to pursue every possible avenue to get faster.”

But for now, the Bears can take a breather and revel in a win that puts them atop all of women’s collegiate rowing.

“That was something we’ll always remember — the athletes, the coaches, the administrators,” Murphy said. “It was just a really special three days.”

— Additional reporting by Ashley McDonnell and Ethan McCoy


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