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Women’s Lightweight Crew Competes for Knecht Cup

By Annemarie Grandke

TEAM MEMBER

The Varsity Women’s Lightweight Crew team traveled to Camden, NJ this weekend to compete in the Knecht Cup.

Women’s and men’s crews from over 50 schools from across the country, including Princeton, Stanford, Harvard/Radcliffe, and Wisconsin, attended the two day regatta from April 17 to 18, on the Cooper River, home of the annual Intercollegiate Rowing Association national championships. While the Knecht Cup has been a popular fixture on the spring racing schedules of many schools, this year marked the first time that a crew from MIT participated in the event.

MIT Crews competed in two events over the course of the weekend, the varsity lightweight eight and the varsity lightweight four. MIT fielded one varsity eight entry and two varsity four entries. Despite a rigger failure half-way through the race in the eights competition, MIT’s lightweight eight advanced to the petite finals as a result of placing fifth in the qualifying heat. In the petite final, the crew achieved a second place finish, losing only to Wisconsin’s B boat by 11 seconds, and edging out the University of Massachusetts crew by 0.8 seconds with a time of 7:52.7. Susquehanna, Lafayette, and Sacred Heart finished fourth, fifth, and sixth, respectively. The crew of the varsity eight included Jeanna Liu ’07 (coxswain), Laura C. Harris ’07 (stroke), Kim Harrison ’07, Laurel Yong-Hwa Lee, ’05, Elina Groberman ’04, Annemarie N. Grandke ’04, Kathleen Yeh ’07, Cynthia Lin ’07, and Sarah F. Newman ’06 (bow).

On Sunday morning, the MIT varsity B four gave the lightweight team its first victory of the season, winning the fours’ petite final with a time of 8:13.0, beating crews from the University of Massachusetts, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, and Lafayette in an exciting sprint to the finish line.

The MIT varsity A four also advanced to the petite’s final, and placed sixth, with a time of 9:02.2. “Although our boat didn’t ultimately place as well as we would have liked, I was excited that we qualified for the Petite finals. I think that this weekend, our team as a whole showed a lot of potential for the future,” said stroke Katherine Hung ’06 after the race. Teammate Antonella Alunni ’06 agreed. “As a boat, we progressed throughout each race, making each race more aggressive than the next, getting a season’s worth of races all bundled up into one weekend, which was exciting,” she said

Both MIT fours placed high enough in their respective qualifying heats on Saturday to advance to the semifinals. While the MIT A four had been practicing as an established crew prior to the weekend races, the B boat was an unpracticed four, consisting of four rowers taken at short notice from the eight. Having never practiced as a crew before, the B four narrowly missed the qualification for the grand final, placing fourth by half a boat length in the semi-finals. The top three boats of each semifinal heat advanced to the Grand Finale, while the boats placing fourth through sixth went on to compete in the Petite Finals. However, with a final finishing time of 8:13.0 in the petite final, the B four would have placed fourth in the grand finale (out of a total of 23 competing crews). The crew of the MIT A four included Hung (stroke), Cathy Yao ’06, Alunni, Jeanette Fershtman ’04 (bow), and Amy Lee ’06 (coxswain). The MIT B four consisted of Laura C. Harris ’07 (stroke), Kim Harrison ’07, Annemarie N. Grandke ’04, Elina Groberman ’04 (bow), and Jeanna Liu ’07 (coxswain).

Overall, the trip to New Jersey was a success for the team. Having raced the previous two weekends against crews from Georgetown University, George Washington University, and the University of Rhode Island, and having lost each time by significant margins, the Knecht cup gave the team a chance to show what it has been training for over the past three months.

“We made a huge improvement in our rowing. We accomplished our mission to row better and race harder than we have. We have patiently been building technique and finally were actually able to start racing with it, which we hadn’t been able to do before,” said Coach Buzz Congram on Sunday.

In previous sprint races this season, MIT had raced a varsity lightweight eight as well as a novice lightweight eight, for the Knecht Cup the only eight which raced was a combination of the strongest varsity and novice rowers, including five freshmen. Opening up the first varsity boat to all team members allowed MIT to field its most competitive eight yet. Laura C. Harris ’07, stroke of both the varsity eight and the B four voiced the general feeling of the team on Sunday when she said, “It was good to get in some wins, after finishing thirty seconds behind other crews the last two weekends. It was a great feeling to actually race other crews head to head and to win.”

Entering two fours also gave several members of the team the chance to race five times over the course of the weekend, competing both in the eights and the fours competitions. Coach Congram concluded, “Five races in two days offered a great racing experience for our athletes. People learned how hard they could push themselves even when they were tired.” Congram said that he expected the performance will develop the team’s abilities and confidence.

While last weekend’s success was certainly worth celebrating, the team now has to focus on the next few weeks. There is only one remaining home race in the season, on May 1st against Radcliffe. The following weekend, the team will once again travel to New Jersey to compete in the annual Eastern Sprints Regatta, where it will face many of the crews against which it competed in the Knecht Cup this past weekend. Groberman puts it in perspective: “While this weekend certainly has been an improvement over the past few weeks, there is no time to rest on our laurels. We have much training still to do over the next month if we truly want to field a competitive boat at Sprints.” Varsity coxswain Liu agrees. “This weekend changes everything. Now we know what we are truly capable of; it’s just a matter of going out there and doing it every time for the rest of the season,” she said.