If you want to see a national powerhouse in action, make your way down to the Marston Boathouse during the spring and check out the only team in Brown athletic history to have won an NCAA team title. But don't expect a lot of bragging. "National power?" echoes women's rowing coach John Murphy. "I hear all that. But I just think of us as a small school who has great competition and is working to be the best we can be."
The hard work paid off again in early June for Murphy; his wife and associate coach, Phoebe; and their collection of forty-three skilled and dedicated rowers. That was when the Bears won the NCAA championship for the third time in four years, this time by edging the University of Washington, the defending national champion, by four points on Indianapolis's Eagle Creek Reservoir. It was a payback of sorts: Brown won the national championship in 1999 and 2000, but was knocked off by Washington last year.
The Bears took home the 2002 title by finishing with sixty-seven points in the three-day event. Brown was the only team to qualify all its crews for the grand finals, a pivotal factor in its compiling enough points to stave off Washington. The women's four crew of Lee Reynolds '05, Meaghan Kelly '05, Megan Wachs '05, coxswain Alexandrina Agloro '05, and Diane Schneider '04 pulled off the stunner of the weekend by winning its race on the final day of competition - a crucial victory needed to counter Washington's first-place finish in second varsity eights and varsity eights.
After its win in the second varsity eights, Washington still had a chance to win the team championship. A victory in the varsity eights and a fourth-place or lower finish by Brown would do it. Prior to that pivotal race, however, Murphy didn't tell his varsity eight rowers that they needed to finish third or higher. He figured he didn't have to. "I didn't want to put much more pressure on them than what was already there," Murphy says. "They're all smart people, and they knew it was very close. But I don't think they knew the exact numbers."
The Bears had a battle on their hands to stay out of fourth place. UC Berkeley and Ohio State took serious runs at Brown, but the women hung in and beat third-place Cal by just over a deck length. (The Buckeyes finished fourth.) The second varsity eights and the varsity eights were disappointed they had lost to Washington, Murphy says, but this was offset by their having won the team championship. In the six years that the NCAA championships have been held in women's crew, Brown and Washington are the only teams to have won them.
The national championship capped another splendid year for the Brown women, who finished 9Ð0 in the regular season, stretching their Ivy League unbeaten streak to twenty-one regattas. (In fact, they have not lost an Ivy regatta since 1997 and are 55Ð3 since 1996.) The women also won the novice eights, the varsity eights, and second varsity eights at the Eastern Sprints this year.
" 'People stepping up' is a phrase you hear a lot in sports these days," Murphy says. "But it worked for us. People improved that extra little bit, and that made the difference. There was a great feeling of teamwork. It wasn't just the varsity doing it for us. Everybody supported one another. This was a very close team. I don't remember any other team being quite this close, even the two other NCAA champions."
Scott Cole is a writer in North Attleboro, Massachusetts.