The Stanford women's rowing team did exactly what they needed to do on Saturday to contend for the NCAA Championship, advancing all three boats to Sunday's Grand Final.
"In some ways this day is the most stressful because you know there are going to be photo finishes in the NCAA semifinals," said Cardinal coach Yasmin Farooq.
Daphne Martschenko. Photo by Norbert von der Groeben/isiphotos.com
Three of the top five teams in the nation and six of the top 12 were in the second varsity eight semifinal, including No. 2 Stanford, No. 3 Brown and No. 5 Princeton.
Stanford got off to a better start than they did on Friday, but still fell back behind No. 8 Michigan and Princeton by about one second at the 500-meter mark.
Brown had the fastest second 500 and moved into second place behind the Tigers with Michigan and Stanford virtually tied. No one pulled away after the midway point, setting up a battle to the finish line.
Brown took the lead at the 1,500-meter mark, while the Cardinal inched ahead of Michigan.
Four boats headed into the final 500 meters bow ball to bow ball. Stanford picked up speed and recorded the fastest split in the final 500 meters.
When the horn sounded, the Cardinal was declared the unofficial winner of the race, but it would have to go to a photo review.
"What is incredible about NCAA rowing is you have so many good teams," said senior Daphne Martschenko. "What is so great about our team is we are so committed to this end goal and supporting each other. We try to be in the moment with every stroke we take in the race."
When the dust settled, Stanford had, indeed, won the race with a time of 6:30.061, four-hundredths of a second ahead of Brown. Michigan took third, 0.25 off the Cardinal, while Princeton finished 0.48 seconds behind and missed advancing to the Grand Final.
"I am grateful that they had such a tight and competitive race," said Farooq. "In many ways it reflects our season in that we have had to fight for every stroke to get here. We came in to the regatta knowing we would have to fight for every stroke to advance. Now we are in the final and will be prepared to fight for every stroke again."
As the coaches rejoiced on the shore, the varsity eight was going through its cool down thinking it got fourth place and would not move on to the Grand Final.
It wasn't until they reached the dock that they found out they had actually finished first.
"We definitely thought we got fourth place," said Martschenko. "It was so incredibly close that we had no idea. We did our cool down and were entirely disappointed. When we found out at the dock that we won the feeling was indescribable."
The varsity eight will be in the Grand Final for the first time since 2011 and fifth time in the last seven years. It won the national title in 2009.
The varsity four was also involved in an incredibly difficult semifinal that featured the top four seeds. Top-seeded Brown, Virginia and Ohio State along with Notre Dame and Princeton joined Stanford.
"We knew in the fours race that the semifinal was competitive," said Farooq. "That said I had confident in the speed of that boat and their ability to compete."
Virginia and Brown grabbed the early advantage, pulling ahead of Stanford by one second at the 500-0meter mark. The Cardinal put together a strong second 500 to pass Brown and crawl even with the Cavaliers.
In the final half of the race, Stanford continued to row well, and, by the end, crossed the finish line first with a time of 7:31.938. They held off Virginia , which finished 0.25 behind.
Brown was another second behind for third place, while Ohio State was the last team left out of the Grand Final.
"We came in knowing we were in for a hard semifinal," said junior Alix Chrumka. "It definitely was nerve-wracking. Coming out with the win, we know that these races can come down to the last second so we need to go out there do everything we can tomorrow."
The last time a Stanford four made the Grand Final was 2011 when they finished sixth. This will be their third Grand Final in the last six years.
"We have raced from being up or down," said Chrumka. "We have had to come from behind this weekend and those previous situations have been beneficial. We know we can move with 1,000 to go or 500 to go. Our sprint today really paid off. Seeing the varsity eight's race and them come from behind was inspirational as well."
The second varsity eight also made the Grand Final with a second place finish in its semifinal.
The Cardinal held a lead in the back half of the race over Virginia, but the Cavaliers came back on them to win by less than a second. Stanford posted a 6:44.395, which was one second in front of California.
The last time Stanford qualified all three boats for the Grand Final was 2011 when they tied Brown for the most points, but lost on the tiebreaker by .05 seconds.
The Cardinal also sent all three boats to the finals in 2009 when they won the National Championship.
"I am so proud of the collective effort of this team," said Martschenko. "We are very supportive of each other and I can't wait for tomorrow."