WEST WINDSOR — On a chaotic Sunday on Mercer Lake, the women’s open crew finished fourth at the NCAA Championships. Princeton, which entered the meet ranked No. 6 nationally, exceeded expectations by finishing in the top five of every race.
Though the event started under fair conditions and ended beneath a sunny sky, competition was suspended for an hour and a half late in the morning due to thunderstorms, which were accompanied by a spell of driving rain.
“It is New Jersey, and we do this all the time with our own practices — we’ll go out in the driving rain, we’ll get out and have a lightning storm and have to come in,” head coach Lori Dauphiny said. “I think we were prepared for that, as best as we could be.”
Princeton’s varsity four took fifth place in the first grand final of the day, finishing the 2,000-meter course in 7 minutes, 26.23 seconds. The Tigers started out in fourth, a bit behind the top trio at the halfway point, but Yale surged in the final 1,000 meters to edge Princeton while Ohio State, Virginia and Cal took the top three spots.
After the long weather delay interrupted competition, the teams returned to the water to complete the second varsity races. Princeton opened the grand final in a similar position as the varsity four, battling for fourth place with Virginia throughout the race.
Michigan pulled away early, but by the end of the race, the teams were tightly packed, with each of the top five boats finishing within a length of the one before it. Princeton held its position to finish fourth in 6:42.61 and move up to fourth in the team point standings.
By the time the final boats took the course, the sun was shining brightly, showing no signs of the race-delaying storms that had filled the sky less than two hours earlier. Looking to defend its NCAA title in the first varsity race, Princeton started in lane two, still in contention for the team championship with Virginia, Michigan and Cal.
Michigan and Virginia separated themselves from the field while Cal lagged behind in fifth, meaning a third-place finish for the Tigers would give them third place in the team standings. Princeton was neck-and-neck with Southern California for third place for most of the race, but the Trojans edged the Tigers for bronze, leaving Princeton in fourth at 6:25.90.
The Tigers ended the meet one point shy of third place, finishing with 77 points to Cal’s 78. Virginia won the first varsity race and the team title with 87 points, while the Wolverines had 82.
The Tigers’ team success was set up by great performances in the preliminary and semifinal rounds. On Friday, all three of Princeton’s boats comfortably finished in the top three of their preliminary heats, advancing to the next round. In Saturday’s semifinals, Princeton again had a strong showing, finishing second in both of the eights and third in the varsity four to send all three boats to the grand finals.
Only two other teams, California and Virginia, qualified for the grand final in each race. Every finisher in the grand final receives more points than any boat in the petite final, making semifinal success critical to the team competition. Princeton learned that the hard way in 2011, when the first varsity eight won its championship but the other two boats failed to qualify for their grand finals.
“I wasn’t sure that all three boats could make the final,” Dauphiny said. “Everyone really stepped up, and we worked really hard between Eastern Sprints and the national championship to make it happen.”
Though the team did not match last year’s individual success, 2012 marked Princeton’s third consecutive top-five team finish at NCAAs. The Tigers took fourth last year and placed third in 2010.
“It shows that we’re really building depth,” Dauphiny said. “In the past, that was something that we struggled with ... This is the first time in some time that we’ve put all three boats in the grand final.”
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/05/28/30994/