On the morning of June 1, Yale women’s crew, defending NCAA varsity eight champions, knew that the upcoming races would not be easy.
They did not have a perfect record — Brown shattered that possibility with its late-season victory. They did not have a boat full of seniors — the varsity eight boasted just one, No. 5 seat Jamie Redman ’08. They did not have the springboard of a victory in the Eastern Sprints to carry them through the regatta — the Bears denied them that as well.
But they had talent, dedication, and tenacity. And their whole season was a testament to that.
The Elis started the fall out strong with a first-place finish in the Head of the Housatonic, and they continued to perform well through November. But it was the spring season when the Bulldogs truly began to dominate, starting with a first-place finish over Penn and Columbia in late March. From there, the varsity eight picked up win after win, coming into the home stretch of the season undefeated.
It took defending NCAA team champion Brown to disrupt their undefeated season — which the Bears proceeded to do in a dual race on May 3. The Bulldogs were dealt another blow by their Providence foes in the EAWRC sprints two weeks later, when the Bears edged in just over a second before the Elis to take first place.
But, in the national rowing championships, the Bulldogs would finally get revenge on the opponent who had routed them not once but twice in a single season, and they would do it by more than a full second.
The No. 1 Elis rowed a phenomenal 2,000 meters on Lake Natoma in the varsity eight grand final, overtaking not one but two leading boats in the final 500 to come in first with a time of 6:34.05. Second-place Stanford was less than a second behind, pulling in at 6:34.95, and Brown hung on for third with a time of 6:35.25.
“The Grand Final was almost a carbon copy of our race at Eastern Sprints,” Jamie Redman ’08 said. “Yale and Brown, trading punches the entire way down the race course. But this time, we knew how to sprint effectively. We just put our heads down, and tried to hang on until the finish line!”
The Cardinal had a powerful race, leading the pack for most of the first 1500 meters. The Bears also made a bid for the championship in the third 500 before dropping back. But in the final 300 meters, the Bulldogs made their final stand, blazing into the lead and holding it for the final moments of the race to come out with a victory.
“It was one of the most exciting races I’ve been in,” Redman said. “With less than ninety seconds to go, the entire field was still neck and neck. Because no crew had established themselves with a huge lead, the race would have to be decided by a sprint. Yale had the horsepower, and the motivation, and the momentum, and ultimately came out on top.”
“We showed heart, concentration, and a willingness to do whatever it took to get there first!” head coach Will Porter added.
The second varsity eight raced not in the grand final but in the petite final, because of a sixth-place finish in their heat and a fourth-place finish in the repechage the following day. But they earned their team eight points in the final itself with a respectable third-place finish and a time of 6:54.14. Wisconsin took the race with a time of 6:50.34, and Washington State sneaked by the Bulldogs in the final 500 meters to take second at 6:51.42.
“I think we were disappointed with our performance, especially in the heat and the repechage,” captain Jennie Hansen ’08 said. “We didn’t row to our potential, and it cost us. Our race in the petite final was a good, gutsy piece where we really threw it out there, though. We were in a good position through the 1500-meter mark, but Washington really started to move there and we didn’t have the gas in the tank to respond. We were upset with the result, but we raced that final with a lot of heart.”
The varsity four took sixth in the grand final, clocking in at 7:41.82. Washington State took that race with a time of 7:24.75.
“Facing off against Washington and Cal was definitely a challenge, but we raced maturely and aggressively,” Allix Wilde ’10 said. “Making it to the grand final put an excellent cap on the end of what has been undoubtedly the most amazing season in my short career as a rower.”
At the end of the day, the Bulldogs stood solidly in fourth place in the team standings with 51 points, just two behind third-place California. The Bears took the team title, racking up an impressive 67 points. But the Elis certainly have no reason to be upset with the final scoreboard, Redman pointed out.
“A top-four finish at Nationals? Pretty awesome, if you ask me!” she said.
And the fantastic performance at Nationals was the crown on an excellent all-around season, Porter said.
“The three NCAA boats were 31-2 combined in the regular season, all three medaled at the Eastern Sprints, and two of the three made the grand finals at the NCAA,” he said. “That is something any coach would be proud of. It was not a good year – it was a great year.”