The 2011 Princeton open varsity eight entered Sunday one great race away from putting itself among the elite boats to ever race under the Tiger colors. That race was the NCAA grand final, and Princeton was not going to let that one get away. In a microcosm of its brilliant 2011 season, Princeton led nearly wire-to-wire and capped a perfect year with a national championship.
The top-ranked Tigers led at every split, and they had the fastest first two splits to establish themselves as the team to beat early on. By going out in 1:32.06, Princeton led California by .17 of a second and Brown by .54 of a second. With another best-of-the-field split (1:37.60), Princeton reached the middle point of the Sacramento State Aquatic Center course with a lead of nearly half a second over Cal and almost a full second over Brown.
The Golden Bears made a hard charge after 1,000 and held a very brief, slim lead over the Tigers. Not about to let its hard work go unrewarded this late, Princeton charged again and led Cal by half a second with 500 meters remaining.
"We planned to have a decent start and then stick to our plan from the whole season," Dauphiny said. "It was a huge test for our boat when Cal moved, and we really responded. We knew Cal would have moves, and we were ready."
In the final 500 meters, the drama was all behind Princeton. Cal, Brown and Stanford were all locked in a race for the NCAA team championship, and they traded positions before Brown ultimately took the crown by the slimmest of margins over Stanford. Princeton finished fourth overall with 72 points, giving the Tigers five Top-4 finishes in their 15 NCAA Championship regattas; Brown won the NCAA title, while Stanford took second and California finished third.
None of those three teams could make a dent in Princeton's lead in the final strokes of the varsity eight grand final. With a lead that grew to five seats and ultimately 1.5 seconds, the Tigers crossed the finish line in 6:27.12 to win the program's second NCAA Division I varsity eight championship. It was the first NCAA title for Princeton since 2006, when Lori Dauphiny's varsity eight crushed the field at Mercer Lake to cap an undefeated season.
On Sunday, Dauphiny watched another of her powerhouse boats finish a perfect season in style. Led by 2011 Von Kienbusch winner Lauren Wilkinson, captain Michaela Strand and a quartet of regional All-Americas, including Ashton Brown and Emily Reynolds, Princeton went 13-0 in the regular season and won by the EAWRC and NCAA grand finals to complete a golden season.
"Everybody was close, and all the teams were surging at the end," Dauphiny said. "The field was so close, I never really felt like we had it until we actually won the race.
"I'm so appreciative of my coaching staff and the Princeton administration for their hard work and support all season and especially this weekend," Dauphiny added. "This is a special boat, and it worked hard to earn this championship."
The second varsity eight was looking to cap its brilliant season with a victory in the NCAA petite final, and through 1,000 meters, the Tigers looked to be in terrific shape. They overcame a slim lead through 500 meters by Washington State and held a small lead of their own at the midway point over Washington. The hard-charging Huskies had the best third split in the field to gain first over Princeton by less than one second, and the Tigers did not have an answer in the final sprint.
Washington held on for victory in 6:35.91, and Michigan State used a late sprint to move past Princeton for second place in 6:37.28. The Tigers place third in 6:37.43, more than three seconds faster than fourth-place Washington State.
The varsity four was also looking for a petite title, and it held a lead of .4 of a second through the first 500 meters. Ohio State and Brown both made strong pushes in the second split, and Brown took control of the race after the 1,000 meter mark with the fastest third and fourth splits. Brown won in 7:17.67, while Ohio State took second in 7:18.32 and Princeton finished third in 7:19.24.
"I know the other boats were a little down, but I told them that they were a big part of both finishing fourth and helping our top boat win the national title," Dauphiny said. "It was the presence of our 2V and V4 that pushed everyone in the top boat to go fast. The V8 would not have done what it did today without the rest of the team.
"As important as the team championship is, it is really fun to be part of the fastest eight in the country," she added. "That is really something to be proud of."
NCAA Varsity Eight Grand Final
1 Princeton 6:27.12
2 Brown 6:28.62
3 Stanford 6:28.67
4 California 6:30.06
5 USC 6:30.19
6 Michigan State 6:36.12
2011 NCAA Champion Princeton Varsity Eight
Cox—Lila Flavin (Jr., Cambridge, Mass.)
Stroke—Lauren Wilkinson (Sr., Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada)
7—Kelsey Reelick (Fr., Bookfield, Conn.)
6—Emily Reynolds (Sr., Washington, Conn.)
5—Michaela Strand (Sr., Seattle, Wash.)
4—Heidi Robbins (So., Hanover, N.H.)
3—Kelly Pierce (Jr., Perth, Australia)
2—Molly Hamrick (So., Tampa, Fla.)
Bow—Ashton Brown (Sr., Calgary, Alberta, Canada)
Second Varsity Eight Petite Final
1 Washington 6:35.91
2 Michigan State 6:37.28
3 Princeton 6:37.43
4 Washington State 6:40.57
5 Michigan 6:42.28
6 Yale 6:43.59
7 Wisconsin 6:43.92
Varsity Fours Petite Final
1 Brown 7:17.67
2 Ohio State 7:18.32
3 Princeton 7:19.24
4 Washington State 7:24.00
5 Michigan 7:26.72
6 Yale 7:29.57