Crew preps for a Sprint to the finish

Team sets sights on qualifying all three boats for Grand Final at EAWRC Sprints, the final race of the season

· May 12, 2011, 9:35 pm   ·  Updated March 12, 2011, 12:00 am

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With finals, moving out and, for some, graduation, the last few weeks have offered plenty for the typical student to handle.

But rowers on the women’s crew team have had one more thing on their mind — their championship race, the EAWRC Sprints, which takes place May 15 on the Cooper River in Pennsauken, N.J.

“This is my fourth year doing it, and you get used to it pretty quickly,” said Liz Donald, a senior captain who will be stroking the Varsity Eight on Saturday. “It’s a hard juggle, but everybody seems to do it well.”

The team heads into its biggest race of the year after a stellar regular season during which it accomplished several team goals, including defeating Northeastern and Syracuse to capture the Orange Challenge Cup for the first time since 1995.

Junior Kelly Burke, who sits seven-seat in the Varsity Eight, was pleased with the team’s results thus far.

“We won the races we wanted to win,” she said. “There are a lot of really fast crews this year, and we were closer to a lot of crews than we had been in a long time, which was pretty exciting.”

Since the beginning of the year, the team has had one goal in mind for the Sprints: to have the Varsity Eight, the Varsity Four and the Second Eight all reach the Grand Final in their respective events.

In the eight years that coach Mike Lane has been part of the Quakers’ staff, Penn has had two out of three boats qualify for the Finals. But never have all three made it in the same year, which is why the feat is their aim this year.

“At the beginning of the year, our goal is simple — we want our boats to make the Grand Finals, that’s it,” Lane said. “As we get to Sprints now … all of our boats are ranked in a position where that’s actually a reality.”

The Quakers’ best chance to qualify will come with their Varsity Four, which is seeded fourth. The Varsity Eight is seeded eighth, and the Second Eight is seeded seventh.

Lane, who took over as head coach in 2006, likes his team’s chances.

“This year’s group is really the strongest group that I’ve had in my time here, both erg score-wise and rowing-wise,” Lane said. “They’re a great group of kids. … I have all the confidence in the world that they’re going to do it on May 15.”

In order to advance to the Grand Final, each Penn boat will have to finish first or second in a qualifying heat. A total of six of the 17 schools participating (16 for the Varsity Four) will move on from three separate heats to the final.

Lane has a close eye on the Varsity Eight’s heat, which pits Penn against second-seeded Brown and fifth-seeded Cornell. The Big Red defeated the Quakers by only four seconds on April 16. To advance, Penn will likely need to avenge that loss.

Neither Donald nor Burke, however, would admit they were looking to take revenge on Cornell specifically.

“Everyone is fair game, we’re coming after everyone,” Burke said.

Depending on their success at the Sprints, the Red and Blue could also be invited to the NCAA Tournament, which will be held in Sacramento, Calif., during Memorial Day weekend.

Like in basketball, crews are selected by a tournament committee. Typically four or five schools are selected from the Sprints.

If Penn were selected, it would be the first time in school history. Three years ago, though, they came close.

“When we came in fifth [in 2008] and we had a really strong team performance, I thought we were going to get an invite, and we didn’t,” Lane said.

Since a tournament berth is not completely within their control, the Quakers know that being as successful as possible is all they can do. Still, Lane is excited about the possibility that things could fall into place.

“NCAAs are really just like a bonus for us,” Lane said. “But it would be a dream come true.”

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