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Tiger Win Keeps Princeton Title Streak Alive

Winning a national title is a pinnacle moment under all circumstances.  But capturing an NCAA championship takes on special meaning when it preserves your university’s national title win streak of nearly half a century.  Julia Ratcliffe’s impressive victory in the women’s hammer throw at the 2014 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships ensured that Princeton University would of garner an NCAA title – either individually or as a team – for the 43rd year in a row.

The prospects for Princeton – which had not yet rung up an NCAA championship during the 2013-2014 school year – being able to extend its national title streak looked bleak when their collegiate leader got off to a shaky start.  “I was quite nervous on that first one and I kinda screwed up the first turn,” explained Ratcliffe who restarted her first attempt after an awkward initial spin in the ring.  “So I slowed it down to make sure I gave myself a good chance even though I didn’t quite pull through on that throw.”    The poised New Zealand native from Waikota Dioscean in Hamilton was able to put it all in perspective.  “I kinda got one out,” she explains.  “And on that first throw, you just want to get it out of the cage, really, no matter what the distance.  So I just wanted to make sure I kinda got a good one out.”

Ratcliffe quickly found her groove and improved her mark with each of her next four subsequent attempts.  On her 5th throw, the Princeton sophomore launched a low-trajectory scud missile – a heave of 66.88m [219’5”] – which extended her lead over the field to nearly 7 feet.  Forsaking the arching, rainbow-like throws employed by many, Ratcliffe – with a smaller stature than most of her competitors – has developed a low, crouching technique which places great emphasis on her highly-refined technique.  Her ascending sequence of throws allowed her to vanquish her fellow challengers – including Colorado senior Emily Hunsucker who was the surprise runner up, posting a best mark of 64.83m [212’8”].

The Princeton victor had time to reflect on the events that led up to her important win. Ratcliffe arrived in Eugene with a glittering, blemish-free outdoor season record.  Did her 2014 collegiate-leading throw of 70.28m [230’7”] and an unbeaten outdoor season prove to be a confidence booster?  Or did her dominance impose additional pressure?  “Coming in as the favorite and being unbeaten all season, you wonder if it’s going to keep happening,” Ratcliffe  questions.  But, with a smile, she adds, “I came through.”

As the final progressed, many wondered if the Princeton sophomore knew that her quest for the title would impact her alma mater’s NCAA title run.  Was she aware that Princeton’s streak was on the doorstep of elimination?  “I was,” Ratcliffe admits.  “The last several weeks on campus, people kept coming up to me and saying, ‘You’re our last hope!’” the Kiwi laughs.  “So I tried not to think about it much.  But it [the preservation of the Princeton title streak] is kind of like an added bonus now.”

Only a sophomore, the young titlist is nonetheless able to put her national victory in proper perspective.  “You kind of want to do it for the school,” Ratcliffe confides.  “I know the Princeton athletes and I work with the staff a lot.  You are doing it for the people you see at training and help you through.  It feels good to bring it home for Princeton.”

Julia Ratcliffe has had time to anticipate that her hammer victory would make her the first Princeton woman to capture a national track & field title. And the importance of that accomplishment – now achieved – is not lost on her.  “It is huge,” admits the young New Zealander.  “It is just such an honor.  I know most of the Princeton athletes and I know how hard they work.  It’s kinda funny that nothing else like this has ever happened before.”

Princeton University which, like all Ivy League universities, offers no athletic scholarships, takes pride in its 43-year streak of producing at least one national collegiate champion.  And as it has since 1972, the Tigers in the coming year will face the same annual challenge of preserving and extending its streak of NCAA titles.  While producing a national champion is always a daunting task, Princeton can take some comfort in knowing that Ms. Ratcliffe will be throwing for Old Nassau for two more years.  

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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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