Winning, California Style

By Scott Cole / July / August 2004
June 15th, 2007
After a one-year lull, Brown is again the capital of U.S. women’s collegiate rowing. The women’s 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 women’s 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. Women’s rowing is the lone Brown varsity sport to have won an NCAA team title; this year’s varsity-eight NCAA championship was Brown’s 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 women’s 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 wasn’t easy. “You’re 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-eight’s 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 Sunday’s 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 Sunday’s 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 Boston’s 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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July / August 2004