Rowers ready for Princeton Chase

After claiming first at Head of the Charles, Virginia faces strong field in weekend regatta

Returning from Boston late Sunday night after finishing as the top collegiate boat at the Head of the Charles for the fourth consecutive year, the Virginia women’s rowing team had already moved on, shifting focus to upcoming races — like the ones this weekend in Princeton — and beyond. Though the Cavaliers were proud of their accomplishment, the women know the Charles was just a starting point for the season.

“I told them on Sunday after we won, ‘Okay, that’s great — for today,’” coach Kevin Sauer said. “But tomorrow it doesn’t mean squat. Each and every day we’ve got to get a little bit better.”

On Sunday, Virginia will compete in the Princeton Chase, a three-mile head race on Lake Carnegie in Princeton, New Jersey. The Cavaliers have five entries in the Varsity 8+ category, with the race beginning at 10:30 a.m.

“Now that we have that one race under our belt, we can start to tweak the small things that we want to improve,” senior Hemingway Benton said. “So for Princeton Chase, I think just with more practices we can make it even better and faster and more effective.”

The Cavaliers look to have a strong week of practice leading up to this weekend to ensure they're prepared for the coming races.

“[The Charles] wasn’t really our cleanest race,” sophomore Georgia Ratcliff said. “So this week it’s just cleaning it up and working on the technical things that maybe we missed in that race and closing that gap.”

The field of competition for Sunday includes ACC rivals Syracuse and Boston College, and Ivy League crews from Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania and Yale, each with multiple boats. The competition will not be easy, with five of these crews finished the 2014 spring season in the top 20. Last year, the Virginia Varsity Eight won the race, beating out Yale and Princeton, while the third and second eights rounded out the top five.

Ratcliff and Benton are two of the more experienced members of the Varsity Eight lineup. Benton has rowed in the Varsity Eight at the NCAA Championships since freshman year, and Ratcliff was in the Varsity Eight lineup last year, earning ACC Freshman of the Year honors.

More unexpectedly, freshman Shawna Sims, who stroked in the Varsity Eight at the Charles, has had a standout season thus far.

“Coming into the season, I knew she was pretty good — but I didn’t know she was that good,” Sauer said. “She just comes in here and works really hard.”

Though fall races are a good time to gauge the crew’s progress and size up competition, the Cavaliers’ ultimate goal is winning the ACC and NCAA titles in the spring.

“Definitely our first goal is winning NCAAs, and then it’s subgoals to get there,” Benton said. “The first step was definitely winning the Charles and getting our name out there early.”

The win at the Charles was evidence the team is on the right track, but it does not ensure the Cavaliers will keep the momentum moving into the spring.

“There’s a reason they don’t mail you the medals,” Sauer said. “We’ve got to keep doing the right things everyday, never sit back for a second and stay humble and hungry. We’re in the right direction. Now, whether we are going to keep going that direction or not — that’s up to them.”

After the Princeton Chase, the Cavaliers wrap up the fall season Nov. 16 with home regatta the Rivanna Romp.

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