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Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

“Spectacularly gutsy performance.”

In the words of coach Wesley Ng, Penn women’s rowing put up a strong fight at Cooper River Park in Pennsauken, N.J. this weekend at the Ivy League Championship. After hours of competition, Princeton won the automatic bid to the NCAA Championships and Penn’s fate now rests in the hands of the selection committee after a fourth-place finish.  

The first of the Quakers on the water was the Varsity 4C boat. The boat was coxed by freshman Coco Lucarelli and included sophomores Lauren Freillat, Griffin Pitt, and Anna Bellows and freshman Ayesha Eriksrud. They were immediately off to a hot start, being neck and neck with Brown for much of the race, until the Bears ultimately clawed their way back to overtake the Quakers and finish in first. The Quakers’ time of 8:10.161 was four seconds behind the Bears’ first place finish.

“That’s probably the most encouraging sign that the expectation from our younger athletes is to come in and be competitive and win medals right away,” Ng said.

Unfortunately for Penn, they did not finish on the podium for the next two Varsity 4+ races. In the Varsity 4B race, they clocked in at a final time of 8:01.465 for a fifth-place finish. And in the Varsity 4A race, Penn fell behind the pack early and was caught in a race for fourth against Harvard-Radcliffe. Ultimately, Penn finished three seconds behind Harvard-Radcliffe with a time of 7:52.500.

In the Third Varsity 8+ race, Penn got on the podium with another second-place finish and final time of 7:03.360. They were behind Brown by only two seconds after dueling with them the whole 2000 meters down the Cooper. Meanwhile, Princeton and Yale were giving chase to Penn as they were just a mere two seconds behind them. Freshman Mehreen Khan was the coxswain, with the rest of the boat comprised of freshmen Maggie McGuinness, Avery Cook, Natasha Kobelsky, and Maxine Moody; sophomores Maya Spunberg and Cypress Kaulbach; junior Celia Gallagher and senior Clara Sutherland.

Next up was the Second Varsity 8+ race. The Red and Blue could not catch up to the top three of the pack — Brown, Yale, and Princeton — and fell to fourth place.

“The way that we approach is that we are a full team and that both the positive results and results that are more disappointing, we share in both of those,” Ng said of the results across the day. “Share in each other’s victories, share in each other’s defeats.”

But they still had a fighting chance in the point standings heading into the biggest race of the morning: the Varsity 8+ race.

The top contenders were Brown, Yale, and Princeton after consistent wins throughout the morning. But, with 16 points on the line, the results of the Varsity 8+ race ultimately decided who would be the queens of the Ivy League.  

Those three teams were unsurprisingly at the top of the pack, but Penn was right with them thanks to a veteran squad, who had performed in big moments throughout the season. Coxed by junior Cami Edwards, the boat featured the following lineup: juniors Brooke Caragher, Hannah Lemanowicz, and Alessandra Bennion; seniors Amelia Demopoulos, Simone Vorperian, Alexandra Wiley, and Catherine Moore; and freshman Makeda Harrison at the bow.

“We were going in seeded fourth, and we knew that we were going to have a very, very difficult challenge in front of us, but we felt that we made some improvements over the past two weeks,” Ng said. “The crew does have a lot of experience, and I think they rowed a more complete piece than they certainly did the day before, and they are a crew that have been in some huge races.”

Penn gave chase to the defending champions Princeton. Their boats were right next to each other throughout the entire race, with the nose of Princeton’s boat barely ahead of Penn’s. Separated by mere seconds, Penn rowed right through a pack of waterfowl in pursuit of an upset victory. But, after being neck and neck for the first 1500m, Princeton pulled away to finish three seconds ahead of Penn’s time of 6:33.035. Just two weeks ago, Penn had trailed three seconds behind Princeton in their dual meet.

Now, Penn waits for May 21 for the NCAA selection show to see if their No. 11 national ranking and previous performance will reward them with an at-large bid to send them to Bethel, Ohio for NCAA Championships.