The second-ranked Stanford women's crew team could not have asked for a much better start to the NCAA Championships, as all three boats won their heats to advance to Saturday's semifinals at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis, Ind.
The varsity eight was the first boat to take the water. The first 500 meters showed all the signs that this race would be a tight one as Stanford, No. 7 Virginia and No. 10 Notre Dame were all within one second of each other and UVA holding a slight lead on the Cardinal.
By the midway point of the race, Virginia had started to gain more of an advantage as they extended their lead to nearly 1.5 seconds on Stanford. Notre Dame was another 1.4 seconds back behind them.
That margin held until the 1,500 meter mark, when the Cardinal turned up the heat in the final 500 meters.
As Stanford began to walk on UVA the race had all the ingredients for a fantastic finish. The Cardinal sprint powered them into the lead as they topped the Cavaliers by half a second.
"I could see Virginia a little ahead of us with 250 meters to go," said junior coxswain Naomi Cornman. "We were far enough ahead of Notre Dame that I was confident we were going to the semifinals, but we wanted to win the heat and get a better draw in the semifinal. We started moving on them and in the last 10 strokes we walked on them and took the lead."
The win for the varsity eight automatically sends them on to the NCAA semifinals on Saturday and gives the top Stanford boat six race victories in 2014. They were able to avenge an earlier season loss to Virginia and defeat Notre Dame for a second time.
"Everyone was a little jittery at the start," said Cornman. "You could feel the nerves during warmups and our first 1,000 meters wasn't our most solid race. We were able to turn the switch and row confidently in the second half."
The second varsity eight also had a close race as they won heat number two with a time of 6:31.821. No. 7 Princeton had the best start of the group and led Stanford by 1.5 seconds during the first quarter of the race. The Cardinal was able to close the gap a little but was down half a boat length once the teams reached the midway point.
Stanford nearly pulled even with the Tigers in the next stretch of the course and would soon take the lead over. The margin of victory for the Cardinal ended up being 1.4 seconds over Princeton.
"Once we got into the back half of the race our fitness started to kick in and we were able to walk on Princeton," Stanford's Courtney Carrabino said. "We had a difficult schedule this year. We have been down a couple of times and won from behind. We didn't panic when we were down off the line. We kept our composure and found a groove."
The Tigers were one of the few top 10 teams that Stanford did not face during the regular season. With its eighth victory of the year, the 2V8 moved on to the semifinals.
"It helped us having a tight race in the heat," said Carrabino. "A lot of the races are going to be tight at NCAA's so for us to get a taste from the start is great. The fact we had to battle for it and inch it out at the end is a good experience for us to have going into tomorrow."
The final boat to race on Friday for Stanford was the varsity four. Looking for the sweep, the Cardinal four picked up the lead early on in the race. From there they slowly built on the lead and by the end were able to stretch the advantage to over three seconds.
Stanford finished with a time of 7:13.761 to top No. 5 Washington. It was the second straight race where the two of the finished first and second as the Cardinal four beat out the Huskies for the Pac-12 Championship gold medal in the event. It was the fifth time this spring that the Stanford four defeated a top five opponent.
By winning the heats in the morning, all three boats were able to avoid the repechages Friday afternoon.
"It is huge to avoid the reps," said Carrabino. "Getting one more race on your legs is tough when you have so many hard races in a weekend. Being able to avoid that extra 2k is big going into the semifinals tomorrow."
The semifinals will take place Saturday beginning at 8:30 a.m. with the Division I varsity eight C/D finals.
Stanford finished 12th among 18 teams Friday at the Sperry Top-Sider Women's Nationals.
The Cardinal registered 336 points in 17 races across two divisions. Dartmouth claimed the national title for the second consecutive year with 185 points, followed by Yale (190) and Navy (275).
Sarah Mace, Lily Katz, Samantha Steele and Michelle Catania represented Stanford in division-A and combined for 192 points. Over the two-day finals, the quartet compiled seven top-10 finishes in 17 races. Friday's racing was highlighted by a fourth-place result in the fourth race.
Molly McKinney and Yuri Namikawa had a strong showing in division-B, placing sixth with 144 points. The pair recorded 12 top-10 placements in 17 races, including three in the top-five.
McKinney and Namikawa opened Friday's competition with a fifth-place result, followed by a seventh-place showing. After finishing 11th in the third race, the duo responded with two consecutive sixth-place results. McKinney and Namikawa placed 11th in the following stanza but finished the regatta strong with an eighth-place finish.
Stanford will turn its attention to the APS Team Race Championship in College Park, Md., for the next three days. The Gill Coed Championship begins next Tuesday at the same location.