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Women’s lightweight rowing claims three-peat at IRA National Championships
The women's lightweight rowing team won every race this weekend to capture its third straight national title, the fifth Stanford team title this year. (DAVID BERNAL/isiphotos.com)

Women’s lightweight rowing claims three-peat at IRA National Championships

In the IRA National Championship Regatta at Lake Natoma, California, over the weekend, the Stanford women’s lightweight rowing team swept all three grand finals — varsity eight, four and doubles — to claim its third consecutive team title, this time under the helm of first-year head coach Kate Bertko.

The lightweight team did not lose a single race, both in Saturday’s preliminary heat qualifiers and Sunday’s title-deciding Grand Finals, marching to total team dominance over competitors such as Princeton, Wisconsin and Boston University.

The team title marks the sixth in program history and fifth for Stanford this year, the most for the university in a single year since 1997-98. The national title streak for the lightweight team, however, is still only the second longest in program history as the team won four straight from 2010 to 2013. Stanford is now tied with Wisconsin for the most women’s lightweight rowing national championships.

“It [Stanford athletics] is a dream place to work. There’s so much success and people really striving to be excellent that it’s inspiring,” Bertko told the Daily about contributing to the championship tally. “Coming off being an athlete myself, it’s such a great environment to work. People were inspired by the teammates racing, and the team itself felt inspired as a result, and we as a whole feed off an environment that pushes you to strive to being your best.”

The lightweight varsity eight raced first over the weekend, winning its heat by open water (6:30:800) after claiming the lead within the first 700 meters and maintaining its advantage for the victory. The Cardinal finished with a five-second gap over second-place Princeton (6:35:597) and set the tone immediately for Stanford.

Following the varsity eight heats, the varsity four team also cruised to victory in open water (7:13:484) by separating from the pack at the 500-meter mark and ultimately beating second-place Wisconsin by a five-second margin (7:18:149).

As the last team to finish their heats, the lightweight doubles, on the other hand, had to battle with Wisconsin early in the race before taking an open-water lead over the rest of the field by the halfway point in the race. The doubles would finish with the largest Cardinal victory (7:35:032) of the heat stages, holding an eight-second advantage over the trailing Badgers (7:43:103).

Stanford’s successful performances in the opening round only continued into the Grand Finals on Sunday as the Cardinal once again displayed all-out dominance to take home the national title.

Sunday started with the doubles championship race at 8:00 a.m., yet the Grand Final brought no surprises as every team placed in the same exact order as the heat qualifiers. The Cardinal, however, did remain dominant over the field, besting their previous score of 7:35:032 by a little less than a second, finishing the race at 7:34:700 to claim their title.

The women’s lightweight four were next to race and once again bested the Wisconsin Badgers, this time with a seven-second gap (Stanford 7:20:916, Wisconsin 7:27:638) that continued to expand in the final lengths, claiming the second national title of the day for the Cardinal.

Finally, in the last women’s race of the regatta, Stanford once again dominated their opponents en route to another national title that ultimately clinched the third straight team title for the program. The Cardinal battled early before grabbing and extending an open-water lead in the dying moments of the race, finishing with an even better result than in the heat qualifier at 6:25:396 and a five-second difference over second place Boston University.

When asked about how the women performed so dominantly over the regatta, Bertko stated, “I think it’s a pretty simple and sort of boring answer. The team practiced consistency, effort, and attention to detail all year long; this know what it means to be successful and hold yourself accountable to high standards. They’ve shown me that teamwork and valuing your teammates is the most important thing at the end of the day. It truly is like a family.”

The Stanford men also competed during last weekend’s regatta yet did not find similar dominant success like the women’s lightweight team. The first, second and third varsity eights competed for the Cardinal with all three teams missing spots in the A/B semifinal with the first varsity eight missing the semifinal by one spot.

In the C/D semifinals, all three boats placed in the top three in their respective races and earned spots in the third-level final on Sunday. The semifinal competition was highlighted by the second varsity eight narrowly edging a victory over Navy by a two-second gap (Stanford 5:54:870, Navy 5:56:851).

Sunday’s action in the third final once again saw the Cardinal struggle as both the second and third varsity eight failed to place in the finals, earning fifth and fourth respectively with times of 5:56:566 and 6:02:806. The first varsity eight, however, finished second after losing a tough race against George Washington University by a three-second margin.

“It has been really great getting to know each of the women on this team throughout the year and having an opportunity to celebrate a national championship with them is awesome,” Bertko said. “These women have worked so hard all season. It was special to see them be rewarded with today’s performances. I appreciate all the support Stanford and each of the coaches have given me throughout the year. I am so happy for these women and this program.”
Contact Lorenzo Rosas at enzor9 ‘at’ stanford.edu.