ORCHARD BEACH, N.Y. — Facing both a talented Northeastern University women's crew and vicious wind gusts that pummeled both rowers and fans, Columbia Women's Rowing lost three races, but won the one that counted most when it defeated the Huskies by 2.2 seconds to retain the Woodbury Cup.
"It was exciting, it was exciting," head coach Melanie Onufrieff enthused, and she couldn't be more right. From her seat in the coaches' launch accompanying the racing crews, she saw her Lion varsity eight fall behind early in the 2000-meter race, but begin to hit its stride at about the halfway point.
The Huskies, coached by ex-Columbia head men's coach Joe Wilhelm, still hung onto a slight lead entering the third 500-meter segment, only to see the Lions pull ahead with some excellent rowing.
Columbia was sailing along with about a length lead when it came "under the fire" of the 50 MPH crosswind blasting across the final 250 meters so strongly that it produced whitecaps, and small waves.
Racing shells, designed to be light and close to the water's surface, are particularly susceptible to crossing winds, which can play havoc with the blades, push the boat out of its lane, and even swamp it. Columbia was affected by the winds, losing some of its lead, but thanks in part to the work of junior coxswain Stephanie Ngai, handled them well enough to retain its edge.
The Lions crossed the line, to enthusiastic cheering, in 7:04.2, 2.2 seconds better than Northeastern's 7:06.6. No one was more delighted with the victory than the three teammates and classmates of Mel Woodbury who attended the regatta dedicated to her memory.
The finish of the second varsity eights race was even closer than the varsity event. It didn't appear that would be the case, though, when Northeastern took the lead in the second 500 and opened it up to a length or more in the third 500.
"We were behind, but we were never out of it," Onufrieff said. "We kept looking for a way to come back, and found it in the last 500." Buffeted by the crosswind, the Lions "used it to our advantage, to almost run Northeastern down."
In the most exciting finish of the day, Northeastern held off the hard-charging Lions and won the race in 7:18.5, 1.3 seconds better than Columbia's 7:19.8. The Huskies won the regatta's other two races, the third varsity eights and varsity fours, by comfortable margins.
"We knew we would have to be on our game in order to challenge Northeastern," Onufrieff had said, and Columbia was just that when it needed to be, in the varsity eights race for the Woodbury Cup.
The Lions travel to the nation's capital next weekend for the George Washington Invitational on the Potomac. The invitational regatta will pit Columbia against Navy, Georgetown, St. Joseph's, host George Washington, and possibly some foreign crews.
The Woodbury Cup, the first ever inaugurated by Columbia women's rowing, was dedicated in 2005 in honor of Melanie "Mel" Woodbury, a 1996 Barnard College graduate from Bonners Ferry, Idaho, who served as co-captain of the 1996 varsity women's crew. It was founded in a joint effort headed by Maggie Sullivan `96B, Melanie's co-captain; MB Blanding, her coach at Columbia; and Jim Weinstein `84CC, then chair of the Crew Alumni Advisory Committee.
Melanie Woodbury was killed in an auto accident in December 2002 while returning to her Seattle home from her sister's wedding. She was 28.
Three of her teammates attended Sunday's regatta — Maggie Sullivan, Dinah Luck, and Carolyn Feidel, all 1996 Barnard graduates — and Sullivan addressed the post-regatta gathering.
"Melanie Woodbury," she recalled, "had guts, and knew how to use it. She never held anything back." The Columbia coach, Melanie Onufrieff, who rowed against her when Onufrieff's Penn teams faced Columbia, spoke of the competitor she never met, reminding the gathering that the Cup "helps to remind us that there is more to this than just a 2000-meter race."
Six years earlier, on the 2005 occasion of the first Woodbury Cup regatta, Onufrieff had said of Mel Woodbury, "I would have liked to coach her, and the guys would have liked to row with her."
The results of the Woodbury Cup regatta:
The Woodbury Cup
Columbia vs. Northeastern
April 3, 2011
Orchard Beach Lagoon, Bronx, N.Y.
1. Columbia, 7:04.2
2. Northeastern, 7:06.6
Second Varsity Eights
1. Northeastern, 7:18.5
2. Columbia, 7:19.8
Third Varsity Eights
1. Northeastern, 7:35.7
2. Columbia, 7:58.2
Varsity Fours, A
1. Northeastern, 7:47.9
2. Columbia, 8:05.0
Stephanie Ngai, cox; Nikki Bourassa, stroke; Samantha Warren, 7; Alex Hammerberg, 6; Katie Mitchell, 5; Lily Keane, 4; Meredith Mead, 3; Rebecca Randall, 2; McKenzie Largay, bow
Second Varsity Eight
Shannon Sullivan, cox; Bailey Griswold, stroke; Fiona Duffy, 7; Kasey Koopmans, 6; Mary Nemeth, 5; Natalie Rutherford, 4; Lottie Galliano, 3; Kenzie Bess, 2; Luisa Isbell, bow
Third Varsity Eight
Sarah Chang, cox; Jessica Werlin, stroke; Tamar Nisbett, 7; Sylvie Krekow, 6; Kellie Solowski, 5; Yvonne Vogt, 4; Nikki Tomm, 3; Katherine Bergstrom, 2; Jennifer Wukawitz, bow
Varsity Four A
Gabrielle Barrila, cox; Louisa Mink, stroke; Alexandra Angelo, 3; Hilary Going, 2; Karli McMenamin, bow