WEST WINDSOR, N.J. - It was a dramatic sprint to the finish as the University of Pennsylvania lightweights qualified for the Grand Final at the IRA National Championships for the first time in a decade on Sunday on Lake Mercer. The Quakers then earned the program's best finish at the national championship regatta since 2005.
Penn's sixth-place finish is its best in 10 years when the Quakers finished with the bronze. It is the second-highest finish for the program since 1997 when the Red and Blue also finished sixth.
"Moving up from our performance at the Sprints was a great acheivement by the varsity and a great step for the program as a whole," said head coach Colin Farrell. "I am certainly proud of all that the team has achieved this year. I think we're building a strong foundation of what we want the Penn lightweight crew to be."
In the first heat of the varsity eight, the Red and Blue matched up with Columbia, Princeton and M.I.T. The top three boats in each heat advance to the Grand Final, and all four were within a length or two down the stretch. The Lions pulled ahead and were followed by Princeton. Penn was just a few seats back of the Tigers and a few ahead of the Engineers, who had narrowly beaten Penn in a dual and at EARC Sprints earlier this season.
The Lions stopped the clock at 5:48.846. The Tigers held off Penn at 5:51.629, but the Quakers clinched a spot in the Grand Final with a finish of 5:53.046 -- a few seats better than M.I.T. at 5:54.800.
In their first Grand Final in a decade, the Red and Blue fell off the pace for a national title and a medal, but stuck with the remaining crews and nearly overtook Yale for a spot in the top five. Penn finished sixth with a time of 5:50.902, while Cornell took home the national title at 5:38.989.
Penn had two other boats compete on Saturday. The Quakers were fifth in their heat in the fours with a time of 6:40.924. That placed the Red and Blue in the petite final where they also finished fifth with a time of 6:43.459. In a seven-boat exhibition of the fours without a coxswain, the Quakers were sixth and stopped the clock at 6:22.741.
Also in Farrell's first season as head coach, the lightweights claimed the Callow Cup from Navy for just the second time in the last 15 years, and advanced to the IRA national championship regatta for the second time in three seasons -- the program's best stretch since a three-year run from 2005-07.