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Men’s crew takes fifth in national championships, women's crew takes eighth

Both teams finish top ten at 2021 championships following condensed regular season

The men’s and women’s crew teams raced on opposite ends of the East Coast in their respective Division 1 National Championships this weekend. The men’s team placed fifth overall at the 2021 International Rowing Association National Championships in West Windsor, New Jersey. The women’s team competed in warmer climes at the NCAA D1 National Championships in Sarasota, Florida, taking eighth place.

Women’s team tops all Ivies in Sarasota

The women’s crew team raced through 90 degree heat en route to its eighth place finish — the team’s 23rd top-ten finish at the NCAA National Championships in 24 years of competition.

After races on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the women’s team finished with 88 points, the most among all Ivies. Its eighth place result was Brown’s best finish since 2017. Each of the team’s three boats competed in their respective petite finals, with the first varsity eight placing eighth, the second varsity eight placing seventh and the varsity four placing 12th. 

“Where they ended up was unbelievable given what they had to overcome,” said Women's Crew Associate Head Coach Phoebe Murphy. “I’m really proud of them, and I thought they just raced their guts out.”

“I think we had a really strong performance,” said stroke Beate Kaz ’22. “It's a really good place to jump off for next year. I think everyone's already excited to build on it because we really feel like our team can only keep getting faster.”

The women’s team was unable to compete against other Ivy League schools during the regular season — a factor that jeopardized its ability to compete in the NCAA Championships, which require each participating team to race three times during the season. “That was a major hurdle,” Murphy said. “We were able to race the University of Rhode Island at home, and then we went to Boston to race Boston University and (then) Northeastern.”

Despite the late start to official practice and an abbreviated regular season, the women’s crew team spared no time returning to competitive form when they first touched water in March. Over the fall “we were not allowed to give them any kind of workouts or track any data,” Murphy said. “So it was all a big unknown, but when they got back and we actually set eyes on them and they performed their usual workouts in front of us, it was not a matter of resurrecting them at all — we could see that they had the foundation that we could work with.”

For athletes on the team, falling out of competitive shape wasn’t an option, especially given the nature of the sport. “Unlike some other sports, it's not like you can just kind of pick it up two weeks before practice starts and then be fine,” Kaz said. “You're building on that base and you just have to keep on working, so the summer is traditionally the time you build the base for the fall, and then for the winter, and then ultimately for spring racing.”

“When they shut us down last March, the team just really didn't accept that as their new reality,” Murphy added. “Over the summer, they trained pretty hard. Over the fall, they trained totally by themselves — in their basements, wherever they could find a (rowing) machine.” 

Though the prospect of any semblance of a spring season was uncertain in February, with a “50 percent chance of being allowed to race and being allowed to get to the position where we could be selected for the NCAA Championships,” Murphy said, the athletes were undeterred. “You can't match that 50 percent of possibility with a 50 percent effort, you have to just be all in and 100 percent prepared.”

“A lot of us used our frustration (over the season’s cancellation) to work and keep that speed going for next year,” Kaz said. “I think my parents thought I was insane because I was just running and lifting way too much (over the summer). It was just a lot of time that we spent focusing on working out and growing.”

It helped that instead of opting for an extra year of eligibility, upperclassmen members of the team’s roster remained in the Providence area for the spring and summer in hopes of competition taking place. “Every junior returned, all the seniors returned, and they all decided to be in the area so that if they got the green light to practice together and train for the championship, they would be able to,” Murphy said.

“(Our class) kind of said, ‘Let's stay this year so we can all be together and train really hard, because then we'll have that base to build on for next year,’” Kaz said. “And I'm so thankful we did because it turned out we had not only a full season but got to the NCAA Championships, which was the end goal.”

Murphy and Kaz both eagerly await the fall, which should herald a return both to normalcy and championship aspirations. “We had a meeting with our two captains-elect yesterday, and they were absolutely shaking with excitement,” Murphy said. “We haven't seen that kind of purpose in a long time. I think we're in a really, really good place to go at it.” 

“There are so many people on the team who are working toward the same goal — we're all on the same page,” Kaz said. “Normally you end your season and you're a little burnt out and want to take time off. But I think for all of us, it's been two days since the NCAA Championships and we're all saying ‘Okay, I think it's time to start working out again.'”

Men’s team outperforms ranking with fifth place finish

The men’s team scored 277 points during races Friday and Saturday in New Jersey to take fifth at the national championships, earning a higher spot in the standings than all other Ivies with the exception of Dartmouth, which finished third.

The first varsity eight finished in ninth place after missing out on the grand final — which pits the top six teams against each other — by just half a second in a close semifinal race. The second varsity eight placed second in its petite final for eighth overall. The third varsity eight, racing against a smaller field of competitors, qualified for its grand final and placed sixth. 

The national championship followed an abbreviated regular season in which the team only saw official competition twice and was prohibited from practicing on the water until March.

“We weren't sure we were going to race anyway, so we just really tried to focus on the fundamentals and trying to bring everyone up to as close to championship standard as we could,” said Head Coach Paul Cooke. “In terms of winning the championship, we still had a little bit of a way to go, but the team did a good job of getting those fundamentals and then taking them as far as they could in the time that we had.”

In addition to the shortened season and practice schedule, the team raced with a limited roster due to a number of athletes opting for leaves of absence to preserve their eligibility. “We had probably 12 athletes that took the year off,” Cooke said. “The majority of those that didn't come back were sophomores, but some of the juniors and seniors didn't come back either.”

In Friday’s semifinal race, the first varsity boat crossed the line just .514 second behind Stanford University, a photo finish that kept Brown out of the grand final and cost the team valuable points. “That was the one race I would point to that says this team got very close to championship standard,” Cooke said. “The fact that they got as close as they did is a significant achievement.”

Despite the bitter result in that specific race, Cooke lauded the team’s competitive spirit. “When you lose, it stings, but you feel like you really competed. And I think that was what that semifinal race was: I think our team really did put it all on the line.”

Though the men’s and women’s teams’ experiences this spring have differed and each have faced unique obstacles, Murphy and Cooke both eagerly anticipate greater achievements and a fuller competition schedule in the 2021-22 season.

“Next year is probably going to be the most competitive year in rowing, ever,” Cooke said. “We've got a lot of things in the right place, but we still need to gain an understanding amongst our whole team of what it really takes to win a championship.”


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