May 31, 2009
CHERRY HILL, N.J. - History was made Sunday at the NCAA Women's Rowing Championships at Cooper River Park in Cherry Hill, N.J. as Stanford claimed its first-ever team and I Eight national championships in thrilling fashion. With the team title coming down to the I Eight Grand Final, the last race of the day, the Stanford crew put to rest any memories of last season's tough defeat by jumping to a lead out of the gate and refusing to yield to Virginia over the entire 2,000-meter course, edging the Cavalier crew by 0.37 of a second to claim the individual gold as well as the team title.
Stanford claimed the team title with 88 points, three more than California and Yale, which each tallied 85 points. California claimed the silver in the team competition by virtue of a higher finish in the I Eight Grand Final.
The national title is the first in program history for Stanford, besting the team's previous top team finish of ninth place in 2003. For the No. 1-ranked I Eight, Sunday's national title bests the team's previous best of the silver medal, achieved at last year's NCAA Championships. The I Eight clocked a victorious time of 6:11.95, edging the times of second-place Virginia (6:12.32) and third-place California (6:14.76).
"We had a meeting at the beginning of the year and I asked [the team] if they believed they could win the NCAA's and they said `yes,'" said Stanford women's rowing head coach Yasmin Farooq. "We all knew it was a huge task, because our team has been notoriously small in numbers. The only people who stayed home were members of our novice eight. Every other viable rower was on our NCAA team, and every one of them stepped up when they had to. When the Four made the finals yesterday, we all knew we had a legitimate shot. They finished fifth in the nation today, and went off the line with such courage that they set the tone for the rest of our team."
"We knew the Varsity Eight would have to win to seal the deal," Farooq continued. "That race was unbelievable. They went off the line like they were shot out of a cannon. Their conviction was real. Hats off to Virginia, who threw down an awesome final 500 [meters], and it came down to a foot in the final strokes. Our eight had to gut it out for the win and they did. They made it happen, and that win will be legendary in Stanford history. It took every single person that we have to achieve today's victory, and I hope that all of our alumni will be proud of this day for years to come."
The Cardinal II Eight and Four boats helped set the stage for the I Eight's dramatic victory, as the Four started the day with a fifth-place effort in its Grand Final. The crew opened the race in third position and held that spot over through the halfway point before being caught by Yale by the three-quarters mark. Over the final 500-meter sprint, the Cardinal tried to hold off a charge from the California boat, but found itself nipped at the line by 0.29 of a second by the Golden Bears and had to settle for fifth.
In the next Grand Final, that of the II Eight, the Cardinal found itself running second at the 500-meter mark, trailing California by just 0.26 of a second. Stanford held its position over the next 500 meters, but in the third 500, Yale made its move and surged ahead of both Stanford and California to move into the lead. Over a furious final sprint, the Cardinal managed to retain third place, holding off the challenging Brown boat to net a valuable top-three finish.
"The third-place finish by the Second Varsity Eight was another amazing and gutsy race," Farooq added. "They left it all on the racecourse, and that result helped us know that a national championship was within our grasp."
That set the stage for the I Eight Grand Final, which would not only determine the I Eight national champion, but would also decide the team title as well. With all of the pressure and focus on the six boats on the water, it was the top-ranked Cardinal that calmly set the tone and refused to let its destiny be taken away.
Stanford led the race in the early stages, being separated from Virginia in second and California in third by less than a second. Over the second 500, the Cardinal would push its advantage up to just over a second on the Cavaliers, while the Golden Bears would drop all the way to sixth.
The Cardinal maintained its one-second-plus lead over the Cavaliers heading into the final 500 meters, and there the two crews went toe-to-toe with the gold medal at stake. In the end, it would be Stanford that refused to yield, as the Cardinal crossed the line 0.37 of a second ahead of Virginia with a gold medal-winning time of 6:11.95.
The victory not only set off a celebration among the I Eight, but also among the Stanford contingent at the announcement that the Cardinal had claimed the big prize and was crowned the 2009 NCAA Champion.
NCAA Women's Division I Rowing Championships - Final Team Standings
School - Points
1. Stanford - 88
2. California - 85*
3. Yale - 85
4. Virginia - 78
5. Brown - 71
6. Michigan State - 54
7. Washington - 50
8. Ohio State - 49
9. Michigan - 48
10. Princeton - 46**
11. USC - 46
12. Clemson - 43
13. Wisconsin - 26
14. Harvard - 21
15. Oregon State - 14
16. Dartmouth - 12
* Cal wins tiebreaker (better I Eight finish) to edge Yale
** Princeton wins tiebreaker (better I Eight finish) to edge USC
Stanford NCAA Championship Lineups
Alternates: Julia Thompson, Sarah Kaewert