Navigating Rough Water

By Scott Cole / July / August 2003
June 22nd, 2007
It was a busy season for Brown rowing. Radcliffe dethroned the women’s team as NCAA national champion in Indianapolis in early June, only fourteen days after it edged past Brown by one point at the Easterns in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Radcliffe’s victory at the Easterns snapped the Bears’ five-year winning streak in the varsity eights, and the defeat in Indianapolis denied Brown its fourth national title in the seven years the NCAA has sponsored a women’s crew national championship.

Radcliffe sealed its narrow victory in New Jersey by finishing almost five seconds ahead of Princeton and nearly eight seconds ahead of Brown to win the grand final in the varsity eights—a surprising turnaround from the morning heats, when the Bears had rowed the fastest time. But the Bears certainly made their mark in other events, winning the second novice fours, the first novice eights, and the second varsity eights.

Coaches John and Phoebe Murphy worked their charges hard in the two weeks leading up to the NCAAs. The payoff came during the first day of competition, Friday, May 30, as all three of Brown’s teams—varsity eight, second varsity eight, and varsity four—won their heats by open water. The victories by the second varsity eight and the varsity four automatically qualified them for the championship races on Sunday.

But the varsity eight faced another rugged qualifying heat on Saturday, when the crews awoke to high winds and whitecaps. The Bears struggled in the rough water and finished fourth. In the end the Brown team fell two points short of Radcliffe, fifty-nine to fifty-seven.

The women had one more challenge on their plate before putting the oars up for the summer. The Brown Sports Foundation funded a visit to England by the coaches and twenty-five rowers for the Henley Regatta, which was scheduled to begin June 21. A new shell, the Dave Zucconi, was to be shipped to Henley for the race.

The men’s team, meanwhile, entered the Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships at Cherry Hill in early June. Each of its eights had posted winning seasons, and the varsity had made the grand finals at the Eastern Sprints. At the IRAs, the varsity eight put forth a sterling effort but fell short of making the grand finals.

The Bears’ semifinal heat included unbeaten Harvard, the eventual champion; four-time defending champion California; and Wisconsin, the nation’s third-ranked team. The Bears finished fourth, 1.48 seconds behind the third-place Badgers. In the end, Brown was ninth among fifty-seven schools, three places higher than in 2002.

Also at the IRAs, a men’s alumni crew from some of the finest teams in Brown history raced to victory in the Subaru of America Masters Eight Grand Final I. The Bears swamped the field, winning by almost sixteen seconds over Temple. The crew included former Olympians Jamie Koven ’95 and Porter Collins ’98, as well as Chris Albert ’91, Tony Padula ’93, Malcolm Baker ’91, Joel Scrogin ’98, Rich Caputo ’88, Steve George ’94, and Duncan Wilkinson ’91, all of whom earned at least one IRA gold medal during their undergraduate days.

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July / August 2003