By Will Angell-James, news correspondent

On a blustery Saturday morning, five collegiate rowing crews lined up to compete for the prestigious Orange Challenge Cup. The race is the oldest in women’s collegiate rowing, dating back to 1977. The Northeastern University (NU) Huskies claimed third on Saturday, as the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) earned the championship by a small margin in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

The first varsity eight boat had a strong start on day one and took the early lead, sitting half a length up on Penn and six seats ahead of Syracuse University. Then, the crews encountered the headwind.

“It got a little bit rougher in the middle of the race,” NU head coach Joe Wilhelm said. “We had a couple of bad strokes.”

As a result of the cross-headwind, the Quakers overtook the Huskies.

“We didn’t execute the last 500 [meters] part of the race the way we wanted to,” Wilhelm said.

The Huskies finished third with a time of 7:17.46. Penn finished with a time of 7:14.49. Syracuse managed to sneak its bow ahead of Northeastern to finish second at 7:15.45.

“I think we probably paid putting a little too much effort into the first 500 and not having enough life at the end,” Wilhelm said.

The result was similar for the second varsity eight. The Huskies jumped out to an aggressive start but fell just short of first place, achieving a time of 7:12.54 and finishing third. Syracuse claimed the race with a 7:07.70 final time. Penn came in second, just ahead of the Huskies at 7:11.27.

The crews had a second chance to prove themselves on Sunday. The Huskies took a different approach on day two.

“We decided to pace it a little differently this time and not be quite as aggressive in the first 500 meters,” Wilhelm said.

The Northeastern first varsity crew changed the pacing on Sunday by racing at a stroke rate of 35, rather than Saturday’s 36, according to Willhelm. This allowed the Huskies to have a more controlled race and maintain sustainability down the course.

NU and Penn finished well ahead of the rest of the pack, but the Quakers eventually edgeded out the Huskies by three seconds. Northeastern’s second-place time clocked in at 6:49.82, well ahead of the University of Rhode Island’s third-place finish at 6:55.14.

The second varsity came in third with a time of 6:56.75. They lost to the University of Minnesota (6:49.00) and Syracuse (6:49.24).

Wilhelm said the crews are holding their own against the competition, but need to find a way to get over the hump and put together a win.

“It’s a little frustrating to be as close as we have been in the last two weeks and not come out with wins,” Wilhelm said. “I think we’re doing what we want to be doing right now […] it’s encouraging that we’re racing some really good crews and are close to them. It’s just [that] we’d really like to be on the other side of that margin.”

The Northeastern women’s crew team will host Columbia University on the Charles River this weekend for the Woodbury Cup.

Photo courtesy Nafeesa Connolly, Northeastern Athletics.