Friday, March 03, 2006

2006 Spring Preview - Radcliffe

With Radcliffe, we enter the land of the Big Three. Everyone wants to break the stranglehold Radcliffe, Princeton, and Wisconsin have on lightweight rowing, and someday soon someone will. At the moment, however, breaking into this group will prove daunting.

While Radcliffe's inability to field an eight at the 2004 HOCR gave its rivals some hope for last spring, the Black and White came roaring back to occupy a familiar position by the end of the season. Unfortunately, that position, third, is not what Radcliffe had in mind. This year Radcliffe seems stronger and deeper throughout the program, but we'll need the season to see if that translates into a faster varsity eight.

The revelation begins at the end of March at the Windemere Cup. Radcliffe will meet Stanford and Princeton, among others. Following Windemere URI comes to town. (Actually, the day before URI, I think Radcliffe races Georgetown, although it's not on their schedule. I don't know why this isn't listed, but it will be a tough race for Radcliffe, as Georgetown continues its climb into the very top ranks of lightweight rowing.) This is like the Michigan - Notre Dame football games of the '90s' (1890's) in which Notre Dame was thrilled to play Michigan because they were learning how to play football. Radcliffe better hope their ending isn't the same, as the student surpassed the master. In fact, URI will be close to Radcliffe here, but I don't think they'll pull off the upset.

The week after URI is the Knecht Cup, one of the highlights of the lightweight season at which the Big Three will bash heads and hope that no one else sneaks into the top ranks. A few weeks after Knecht comes the annual dual with Princeton. Until Wisconsin muscled its way into the party, Radcliffe - Princeton was as good as it got in lightweight rowing. For the rest of rowing that thrill has mostly shifted to Princeton - Wisconsin now, but I can assure you that the loser of this race is a boatload of unhappy puppies. (If you're looking for a first-born, this is the place to be.) After Princeton comes MIT, in a URI kind of race, followed by Sprints and then IRAs in June.

Radcliffe was the pioneer in women's lightweight rowing and dominated the sport for years. For many years the varsity's only real competition was the 2V. They supported the sport and urged other schools to start programs and unfortunately the sign of their success is that they haven't won the national championship in years. They've been close, beating Princeton in dual races in some years that the Tigers went on to win IRAs, but they just haven't won the big one recently. Radcliffe, though, is getting faster. But so is Georgetown, Stanford, URI, UCF, Dayton, Ohio State, and Bucknell. Wisconsin and Princeton aren't standing still either. Radcliffe has earned its place in the top echelon of lightweight rowing both on and off the water, and its return to the top is not far off.

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