Virginia's First Varsity Eight comes in first to lock in Virginia Rowing's second national title in just three years. Photo courtesy of @UVARowing
The women's rowing team took care of business at the NCAA Championships in Lake Windsor, NJ, bringhing home Virginia's 22nd national team title. When the Lady Hoos took 6th place in last year's Championships, the result was a bit of a let down for fans hoping for a repeat of the 2010 title, but it was expected from those close to the program. After all, much of the talent that had delivered that championship had departed, and the team was in "reloading" mode. And the team sure did reload, winning the all-important Varsity Eight final en route to the program's 2nd national title.
Before going any further, here's some background on how rowing is scored. There are three featured events. The Varsity Four consists of four rowers and a coxswain. The Second Varsity Eight contains, you guessed it, eight rowers and a coxswain, and the First Varsity Eight has the same configuration. (The First and Second events are a similar idea to first and second singles in tennis; teams have their top eight rowers at the "1V8"). Each place is worth 1, 2, and 3 points, respectively, among the top 16 teams. To clarify, a 16th place finish in the V4 is worth 1 point, 15th is worth 2, all the way up to 1st, which gets the team 16 points. The 2V8 earns the 16th place finisher 2 points (and the 1st place finisher gets 32). The winner of the 1V8 gives the winner 48 points.
An important part of the quest for the title occurred in Saturday's heats, when UVA's weakest relative boat, the Second Varsity Eight, qualified for the Grand Final. After the team started the day with a second place finish in the four, it garnered some key points by taking fifth in the 2V8.
The performance was just enough to allow the Hoos to control their own destiny going into the final race; the team trailed Cal by 3 and led Princeton and Michigan by 1 and 2 points, respectively. Ohio State was 7 points ahead, but, with no boat qualifying for the Grand Final, was no threat. Beating Cal, Princeton, and Michigan would be enough for the team points title, but the strength of the Michigan and Princeton boats meant that a first place finish was likely needed.
Virginia's boat, seeded first in the race, got off to a solid start, but trailed Michigan through the first 750 meters of the 2000 meter race. Around this point, they bypassed the Wolverines and never looked back, opening up a nearly insurmountable lead by the last quarter of the race. The team cruised easily across the finish line in 6:18.72 and kicked off its celebration.
While the Hoos were slight favorites to win the title, lots had to go right to send the Hoos to the top of the podium. "For the last month or two, we felt we had a shot, but it had to be a team performance," associate head coach Steve Pritzker said. "We knew the Four had to be at the top. We knew the Second Varsity Eight had to make the grand final, and they did that. I think it's great that even though those two boats didn't win, they can see what a great part they played in this team championship."
Head coach Kevin Sauer has done an impressive job bringing a relatively young program, founded in 1996, to the level of the country's elite. This is especially notable considering that only 5 other programs, Brown, Stanford, Cal, Harvard, and Washington, have ever won team titles.
First Varsity Eight: Coxswain Sidney Thorsten, Keziah Beall, Martha Kuzzy, Kristine O'Brien, Sarah Cowburn, Fiona Schlesinger, Susanne Grainger, Hemingway Benton, Carli Goldberg
Second Varsity Eight: Coxswain Sarah Jordan, Chandler Lally, Elle Murray, Kaitlin Fanikos, Brandy Herald, Liza Tullis, MacKenzie Leahy, Sarah Borchlet, Morgan Joseph
Varsity Four: Coxswain Cristine Candland, Ruth Retzinger, Hunter Terry, Chelsea Simpson, Carolyn Glandorf
While the women's NCAA title was the story of the day, the men's team, which competes at the club level, also finished the season with a bang. The squad claimed the 2012 American Collegiate Rowing Association (ACRA) Championships when its Varsity Eight crossed the finish line 2 seconds ahead of Bucknell and 4 in front of point champion Michigan. Congrats to both teams on ending the year as champions.