Though the crowd gathered on the banks of the Housatonic River this Saturday was somewhat smaller than the one that funneled into the Yale Bowl last November, the fiercest rivalry in college sports lived up to its billing in both cases. In their first and last home race of the season, the Bulldogs defeated 2003 NCAA Champion Crimson.
The water in Derby, Conn. was smooth and a light tail wind teamed with a slight tail current to help both teams row some of their fastest times of the year. The varsity eight clocked in at 6:05.8, topping Radcliffe’s 6:10.7 by a comfortable margin. Though the final times were only five seconds apart, the Elis were in the lead for the entire race, despite a late push by the Crimson.
“Last week [against Princeton] we were racing from behind,” captain Litsy Witkowski ’04 said. “This week, we got out in front from the beginning which allowed us to keep the Radcliffe boat in our view and counter any moves that they took. It was obvious that everyone in [our] boat had committed to doing whatever it took to get our bow across the finish line first.”
In the second varsity race, the Bulldogs edged the Crimson by less than a second, winning the competition 6:20.7 to 6:21.4. Radcliffe took the varsity four with a time of 7:18.2, besting the Elis’ 7:22.7. The Crimson also defeated the Bulldogs in the novice eight, clocking in at 6:44.8. The Bulldogs freshmen finished with a time of 6:57.9. But the Elis’ victories in the varsity eights made Saturday an overwhelming success.
“There comes a point in every racing season when talk gets cheap and performance is all that matters,” Yale head coach Will Porter said. “We wanted to win and the athletes got the result — our varsity eight had breakout performance. We talk about being at our best when our best is needed and this past weekend the varsity and second varsity eights both stepped up.”
Saturday’s race was the only home meet of the season for the Elis. Ashley Brzozowicz ’04 said support from the home crowd gave the team extra motivation.
“It was great to be able to race at home,” Brzozowicz said. “We had a lot of fans out cheering for us. We have been working really hard to get faster in all of our boats and it was rewarding to see that improvement on the water.”
In addition to the inspiration provided by the home crowd and the legendary rivalry, the Elis were particularly eager to dethrone the reigning NCAA Champion Crimson.
“Any time you are up against the former national champion crew you know their reputation is at stake, as well as ours,” Amanda Kendrick ’04 said. “Having that crew be Harvard, part of the huge school rivalry, and occuring on our home course on a weekend when the guys are also racing set up a situation with a lot of energy to take advantage of. But this weekend was also just another race on the path to Eastern Sprints and another chance to find our next gear.”
The Bulldogs travel to Providence, R.I. next weekend to face Brown. After their match against the Bears, the Elis will have one week to finish preparing for the Eastern Sprints. A strong showing in that regatta will qualify Yale for the NCAA National Championship, which will take place on May 31 in Sacramento, Calif.
“It is exciting to coach a team full of athletes who love to race, love a challenge and feed off each other,” Porter said. “I am proud of them not because we beat Radcliffe but because of how we are performing as a team.”