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After a one-year lull, Brown is again the capital of U.S. womens collegiate rowing. The womens team captured its fourth national title in six years at the NCAA Championships over Memorial Day weekend on Lake Natoma in Rancho Cordova, California. Grand-final victories by the varsity and second-varsity eights capped perfect weekends by those squads, and a third-place finish by the varsity fours gave the Bears additional breathing room over the rest of the twelve-squad field. Coached by John and Phoebe Murphy, the women finished with seventy points; runner-up Yale scored fifty-eight and also finished second to the Bears in the varsity-eight grand final. Brown, Yale, and UC Berkeley were the only squads to make all three grand finals.

The NCAA has sponsored a national championship in womens crew since 1997, and Brown has been in the mix nearly every year, winning the team title in 1999, 2000, 2002, and this year, and finishing as runner-up to Radcliffe in 2003 by only one point. Womens rowing is the lone Brown varsity sport to have won an NCAA team title; this years varsity-eight NCAA championship was Browns third, following titles in 1999 and 2000.

That the varsity eight roared through the weekend unbeaten and claimed a national title was the latest testimony to the womens hard work and to the mix-and-match skills of John Murphy, the Division 1 National Coach of the Year. Murphy revamped the varsity-eight lineup after a disappointing fourth-place finish in the event at the Eastern Sprints three weekends earlier.

After the Eastern Sprints we could see we needed to rethink things, Murphy says. It wasnt easy. Youre dealing with a lot of pride in the athletes and their parents, he explains. It was a very touchy process. The most significant change was inserting Deborah Dryer 06, a five-foot, six-inch powder keg, at stroke. Earlier in the year, Dryer had spent time in the varsity-eight bow, had stroked the varsity four, and had rowed with the junior varsity for the last dual-meet race. Deborah brought a lot of experience with her, says Murphy. She had stroked three junior national teams.

Murphy tinkered with the crew for three weeks, then settled on a varsity-eight lineup for the NCAAs that consisted of Dryer 06 (stroke), Meg Anderson 06 (7), Catherine Starr 05 (6), Karen Prazar 04 (5), Rachel Dearborn 07 (4), Natalia Obolensky 07 (3), Marie Walcott 04 (2), Gillian Almy 06 (bow), and Mira Mehta 06 (coxswain).

The second-varsity-eights weekend sweep concluded an unbeaten season in the event. The personnel in the second-varsity-eight boat changed throughout the spring; the lineup for the NCAA meet included Diane Schneider 04 (stroke), Caitlin Flynn 06 (7), Sophie Branson-Gill 04 (6), Meaghan Kelly 05 (5), Maggie Cheney 06 (4), Kaitlin Masarie 06 (3), Audrey Patten 04 (2), Peggy McKendry 04 (bow), and Erika Faires 04 (coxswain). That group won its Friday heat by a half-length of open water in 6:47.3 to earn a pass to Sundays grand finals, where it bested runner-up UC Berkeley.

The varsity-four boat of Daniella Priebatsch 07 (stroke), Alex Hammer 07 (3), Katie Reynolds 06 (2), Sarah Brooks 07 (1), and Liz Aguiar 04 (coxswain) placed third in the first NCAA heat on Friday, forcing it into repechages on Saturday, but the Bears persevered and qualified for Sundays grand finals. On Sunday, the four started the day with a third-place finish of 7:32.2; more importantly, they finished ahead of both Yale and UC Berkeley, the Bears two closest competitors for the team title at the start of the final day.

And even after the national title was locked up, the team notched one more significant achievement: getting its ten seniors home in time for Commencement. The team flew out of San Francisco late Sunday evening on a nonstop flight and arrived at Bostons Logan Airport at 6 a.m. on Monday. The traveling party was back on the East Side by 7 a.m., leaving the bleary-but-happy seniors just enough time to don their caps and gowns for the walk through the Van Wickle Gates.S.C.

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