From left, Emily Reynolds '11, Kelsey Reelick '14, Lauren Wilkinson '11, and coxswain Lila Flavin'12 celebrate Princeton's win in the varsity eight.
From left, Emily Reynolds '11, Kelsey Reelick '14, Lauren Wilkinson '11, and coxswain Lila Flavin'12 celebrate Princeton's win in the varsity eight.
Luis Villegas/NCAA Photos

Princeton proved it has the fastest varsity eight in the country after the No. 1-seeded Tigers heaved themselves ahead of competitors in the grand final of the NCAA Division I Women’s Rowing Championships in Sacramento, Calif., May 29.

In the races leading up to the grand final, Princeton’s second-varsity eight and varsity four each placed third in petite finals. With the varsity-eight win, Princeton’s mood turned from ­disappointment to elation, especially after learning that the points from the victory were enough to propel the Tigers into fourth place in the team standings.  

“This is amazing,” said Emily Rey­nolds ’11 after accepting the varsity-eight and team trophies. “We knew we had potential to be really fast, but you don’t know until it’s over. Winning the national championship takes a lot, and you don’t know if you have it until you cross the finish line.”

For a team considered a title contender entering the championship, the finishes in the second-varsity eight and varsity four had been hard to take. Both crews failed to qualify for the grand finals May 28, placing fourth in semifinal heats where the top three boats advanced. The second-varsity eight finished just 0.04 seconds behind third-place USC.

“We came in with really high expectations,” said Catherine Parkhurst ’11 of the second-varsity eight. “It’s disappointing, but we know we did our best, and you can’t ask for more.”

In the last race of the three-day championships, Princeton head coach Lori Dauphiny watched nervously as she waited for the varsity-eight boat to come into view along the slightly gusty waters of Lake Natoma. Dauphiny paced the shore shouting encouragement as Princeton led from start to finish, crossing the line in 6:27.12. Brown followed in second (6:28.62), and Stanford (6:28.67) placed third.

This was Princeton’s second NCAA championship in the varsity eight. The Tigers also won under Dauphiny in 2006, with an undefeated crew stroked by Caroline Lind ’06, a 2008 Olympic gold medalist.

This spring, Princeton swept the Eastern Sprints in the varsity eight, second-varsity eight, third-varsity eight, and varsity four. Both the varsity eight and second-varsity eight were 13-0 during the regular season. “We’ve had an absolutely fantastic year,” Dauphiny said.

Despite the accolades, there were nerves entering the NCAA Championships. Princeton had not rowed against three of the top contenders — California, Stanford, and USC — this season.

“I knew it would be tough,” Dauphiny said. “This exceeds all my expectations. It’s unfortunate [that] a couple of the boats fell short of their goals, but I hope they realize this is a team effort.”

Brown and Stanford’s photo finish in the varsity eight determined the team title — both earned 85 points, and the tiebreaker went to Brown because of the Bears’ higher finish in the final race. Brown has won three national titles in five years.

California placed third with 83 points. Princeton and USC each finished with 72 points, but the Tigers earned the tiebreaker and trophy with their varsity-eight finish.

Video by Melody Gutierrez.