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NCAA Champions Again! Varsity Eight Captures NCAA Grand Final

Varsity eight on medal stand (Tim Bennett photo)
Varsity eight on medal stand (Tim Bennett photo)

Bulldogs Win For Third Time In Last Four Years

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GOLD RIVER, Calif. – For the third time in the last four years, Yale has the fastest women's crew in the nation. The Bulldogs varsity eight captured the grand final at the NCAA Championships, holding off a late charge from Virginia to win by nearly a second. Yale led from wire-to-wire and finished in 6:24.76, just ahead of the second-place Cavaliers, who came in at 6:25.75.

“Our plan was to control the race from the start,” said Yale head coach Will Porter. “It's been very rare that this crew has let anyone walk by them. When I saw them with a length lead with 500 meters left, I was pretty sure we had enough of a cushion to win.”

The Bulldogs grabbed the lead right out of the gate and increased it to more than two seconds at the midway point. It stayed at nearly a length with 500 meters to go before Virginia started to close the gap.

“It was a really gutsy race,” said Taylor Ritzel, Yale's stroke. “I was even a little surprised how fast we got out, and we paid the price for that a bit at the end, but we were able to pull it out.”

Joining Ritzel in the boat were Dara Dickson, Stephanie Madner, Catherine Hart, Caroline Nash, Maren McCrea, Alice Henly, Tess Gerrand and Mia Kanak. Six of the nine – Hart, McCrea, Henly, Gerrand, Ritzel and Kanak - are seniors and were racing for the final time in their Yale careers.

“I kept reminding them `this is your last 500 meters at Yale,' this is your last 100 strokes,'” said Kanak, the coxswain.

Princeton finished third with a time of 6:27.06, followed by California, Stanford and Southern California.

Virginia won the NCAA team title for the first time in school history with 87 points, edging out California, who finished with 83 points. Yale was sixth with 66 points.

Ritzel, Henly and Gerrand have been a part of all three NCAA varsity eight championships. Kanak has coxed the varsity eight to two NCAA crowns and also guided the second varsity to the NCAA title last year. McCrea was in the winning boat for the second time, while Hart took home her first NCAA gold medal.

“This is a phenomenal class,” Porter said. “It's incredibly hard to win an NCAA title. It's as good a class as there has ever been in collegiate rowing. They know how to win.”

“It's hard to imagine that we could have this kind of success,” said Gerrand, who sat in the No. 7 seat.

The varsity eight's preparation for the grand final started last night when they all met in a room at the hotel, closed their eyes and listened to Kanak make the calls the way she thought the race would play out.

“Visualization is a really important tool,” Kanak said. “You have to be physically strong, but you also have to be just as strong mentally. The race actually ended up very similar to how we thought it would.”

Yale's other two boats competed in petite finals. The second varsity of Catherine McDermott, Mary Jo Toothman, Kathryn D'Andrea, Natalie King, Armine Afeyan, Kathleen O'Keefe, Allix Wilde, Eliza Hastings and coxswain Sarah Brownlee finished sixth with a time of 6:49.42.

Wilde, who helped the second varsity to the NCAA crown last spring, was the only senior in the boat.

The varsity four of Amanda Grady, Alexandra Fields, Elizabeth McDermott, Mary Pat Wixted and coxswain Erica Segall placed third with a time of 7:24.25.

Wixted, who won two Eastern Sprints gold medals during her time at Yale, was the only senior in the four.

“This was a great lesson for them,” Porter said. “To see the level of competition and to see the amount of hard work that goes into it will only benefit them. That will be the core group of our team in the next few years.”

Report filed by Tim Bennett, Yale Sports Publicity

Video Courtesy Chris Modlin: