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Sunday, May 29, 2011
Brown edges out Stanford in rowing championship

By James Raia

GOLD RIVER, Calif. -- Like other Ivy League universities, Brown has a long and successful history of collegiate rowing -- 152 years, to be exact. On Sunday the women's crew claimed the national team championship by a much more humble margin, one measurable in some points, inches or one-hundredths of a second.

The Bears have an unquestionably strong program, but higher ranking Ivies, like No. 1 Princeton, and Pac-10 teams with faster heats, like Stanford and USC, were favored to win the team title going into the third and final day of the NCAA Division I women's rowing championship. The upset is Brown's seventh team title since women's rowing began Division I competition 15 years ago.

Brown's is among the more unique routes to victory. Brown and Stanford were tied for the team title via a weighted points system, having each scored 85 points over the three-day regatta at Lake Natoma. In the varsity eight grand final, it was neither one of the two leading teams but Princeton who posted the fastest time (6:27.12).

Brown finished the race in second place (6:28.62), but more importantly it finished ahead of Stanford (6:28.67) -- even if only by .05 seconds, or the estimated time it takes for the one-inch diameter "bow ball" protecting the crew's shell to cross the line. With its higher finish in the prestige event, Brown secured the national championship rather than the Cardinal.

"I thought a team title was feasible, but it was feasible for a lot of teams," said Brown's head coach, John Murphy. "I wouldn't say I'm in total shock, but there is a degree of shock. I just thought our team really went after it from the first heat."

Brown has won three of its team titles through tiebreakers like this year's; they have also walked in Stanford's shoes as the losing bid in a tiebreaker. The other three national titles Brown earned more conventionally, with a triumphant varsity eight boat in the grand final adding to an overall lead in points. Despite having won that varsity eight title this year, by the end of the three-hour final session at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center Princeton ranked fourth overall behind California, who placed third with 83 points.

"We just put it together and put out our best effort," said Princeton stroke Laura Wilkinson. "We were racing a little conservatively, but today we left nothing in tank and that was our plan."

California saw more success in the varsity four events.

"On Friday, they [the varsity eights] didn't race hard and they weren't even sharp," said Cal coach Dave O'Neill "All season long, we never had a powerful sprint. We don't have the max power, so we had to go at the start."

California's top-seeded varsity four cruised through its heat and semifinal races to the final. The Golden Bears fell two seats behind Virginia early but regained the lead at 500 meters. With a 7:09.60 finish, Cal won the tenth and final race of its perfect season by more than a 1.5-second margin. The Virginia Cavaliers finished second in 7:11.39, followed by USC (7:12.73).

"In the warm-ups, we were really solid," said Becca Lindquist, Cal's third seat. "We just attacked the entire time. We set the power at 1,000 meters and just took off. Our sprint was awesome."

In the Division II championship, Western Washington won the grand final in both varsity four and varsity eight events, consequently also earning its seventh-straight team title. Mercyhurst was second, with Humboldt State third in the overall team rankings.