PRINCETON, N.J. — Like a blue dart in the orange groves, the Columbia varsity women's eight defeated one orange-clad crew, 19th-ranked Tennessee, and just missed a major victory over another in orange, the 5th-ranked and defending NCAA champion Virginia Cavaliers, in a race at Princeton which drew national attention.
   
Only the Tigers, yet another crew wearing orange, escaped from the Columbia Blue of the Lions, winning the race comfortably to retain its ranking as No. 1 in the nation.
    
With three varsity eights ranked in the nation's top 20 — Princeton, 1; Virginia, 5; Tennessee, 19 — plus sunny, wind-less conditions on Lake Carnegie, the race figured to be a crowd-pleaser. It also was quite pleasing to some of the coaches, including Columbia's Melanie Onufrieff.
    
She knew that although the unranked Lions were bound to be overlooked in the star-studded field — one online article never even mentioned Columbia as an entrant in the race — they could definitely be a factor.
    
And within a few 100 meters of the start, they were indeed factors, but mostly for Tennessee's crew. Princeton got off to a great start, with Virginia striving mightily to catch up. Columbia stayed with the leaders through most of the first early racing, then fell back.
    
In the second 500, Columbia got on Tennessee's trail, pulled level, and stayed that way through the middle 1000 meters. In the final 500, though, Columbia pulled away from the Lady Vols and set its sights on Virginia.
    
The Cavaliers had been abandoned by Princeton, the Tigers having established a large lead, and were probably shocked to see an eight in a Columbia Blue hue drawing closer and closer.
    
"We were competitive with Virginia," Onufrieff recalled. "We kept closing, falling back, back and forth. Each time, we got a little bit closer."
    
With fewer than 200 meters left, Columbia made a smooth surge to pull nearly even with Virginia. From the angle of the spectators on shore, it looked like they had done it. "We had them at 1900 meters!" Helen Galliano, mother of Lion rower Lottie Galliano, exulted.
    
But Onufrieff had the better view. "We never caught up to Virginia," she admitted.
    
Columbia finished third with a time of 7:05.4, two seconds behind Virginia's 7:03.4 and 2.7 seconds faster than Tennessee's 7:08.1. Princeton won easily to retain its No. 1 ranking, in 6:51.1. The Tigers finished the spring season with 13 victories, tying their all-time record.
    
But the Lions could take much pride in their performance. "We keep getting better," the coach said. "Every week we gain more speed and more confidence."
    
Columbia rowed in four other races in the regatta. Onufrieff spotlighted her team's performance in the first race of the day, the Varsity B Fours.
    
The Lions finished fourth in the five-boat field, trailing two Virginia boats and Tennessee, but 8.6 seconds faster than Princeton's ranked four.
    
"We had a really solid performance," Onufrieff said. "They've done a great job this spring. They rowed better and better as the spring season went on."
    
With the Princeton regatta concluding Columbia's regular season, the Lions have two weeks for additional training, as well as final exams. They compete in the Eastern (EAWRC) Sprints Sunday, March 15, on the Cooper Rover in Camden County, N.J.
    
Today's results:
    
Columbia, Princeton, Virginia, Tennessee
April 30, 2011
Lake Carnegie, Princeton, N.J.

Varsity Eights

1. Princeton, 6:51.1
2. Virginia, 7:03.4
3. Columbia, 7:05.4
4. Tennessee, 7:08.1

Second Varsity Eights

1. Princeton, 7:06.0
2. Virginia, 7:09.0
3. Tennessee, 7:35.0
4. Columbia, 7:42.5

Third Varsity Eights
1. Princeton, 7:17.6
2. Virginia, 7:27.6
3. Columbia, 8:06.8

Varsity Fours, A
1. Virginia, 8:01.5
2. Princeton, 8:15.2
3. Tennessee, 8:17.0
4. Columbia, 8:29.7

Varsity Fours, B
1. Virginia C, 8:00.6
2. Virginia B, 8:06.3
3. Tennessee, 8:11.4
4. Columbia, 8:26.1
5. Princeton, 8:34.7

Today's Boatings at Princeton with Tennessee and Virginia:

Varsity Eight
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; Kasey Koopmans, stroke; Fiona Duffy, 7; Bailey Griswold, 6; Mary Nemeth, 5; Alexandra Angelo, 4; Lottie Galliano, 3; Kenzie Bess, 2; Luisa Isbell, bow

Third Varsity Eight

Adele Sung, cox; Nikki Tomm, stroke; Katherine Bergstrom, 7; Kate Christensen, 6; Yvonne Vogt, 5; Alexandra Delaney, 4; Natalie Russell, 3; Helen Van der Sluis, 2; Francesca Maggi, bow

Varsity Four A
Gabrielle Barilla, cox; Louisa Mink, stroke; Natalie Rutherford, 3; Hilary Going, 2; Karli McMenamin, bow

Varsity Four B
Jessica Geiger, cox; Jennifer Wukawitz, stroke; Jessica Werlin, 3; Tamar Nisbett, 2; Kellie Solowski, bow