Stop me if you have heard this one before: it was a cold, wet, miserable, windy day for rowing on Lake Quinsigamond for the Men's Sprints, but that didn't stop crews from getting on and getting down, fast. On the heavyweight side, Yale, though perhaps not as dominant as expected, took the Varsity Eight and the Rowe Cup; in the lightweight ranks, Cornell took the Lightweight Varsity Eight while Harvard, unrecognizable from their fifth-place finish in the team points last season, took the Jope Cup.
The heavy Varsity eight came down to a blistering sprint between the top-ranked Yale heavies and Harvard, with Yale prevailing by 4/10s of a second. The win was the third-straight for Yale in the 1V, a historic accomplishment--Yale had never won the 1V at Sprints three times in a row - although a committed Harvard sprint left the outcome in the balance until the final stroke.
"We didn't panic when we saw Harvard coming at us, we just held it together, and were happy to get our bow across the line first," said Yale captain Rob Hurn. "It's been a factor of hard work, day in and day out, and putting the miles in."
Harvard's silver was the first medal for the Crimson in the 1V since 2014; Princeton took bronze just 0.2 seconds ahead of BU. Lost in the flurry of the finish was Harvard coxswain Cole Durbin furiously tossing his coxbox out of the boat and into the lake as the crew crossed the line after the unit malfunctioned during the piece.
"The guys have done a great job all season, and while we are disappointed not to win, we have the IRA coming up, and in four weeks Harvard-Yale," said Harvard coach Charlie Butt.
Yale's win in the Rowe Cup, the overall points trophy for heavyweight rowing, was the first for the Bulldogs since 1979, and a sure sign that Yale means business all the way down the heavyweight ranks.
"It's incredible to see how far the program has come in the last three years," said Yale's Hurn. "The 1V has done pretty well, but this is the first year that we've had a squad that can compete right through the ranks. It's incredible to see."
Characteristically, Yale head coach Steve Gladstone was not thinking in terms of history. "Our priority," he told row2k after the regatta, "is having a good practice on Tuesday."
Princeton took the 2V, almost a length over top-ranked Yale, with BU taking the bronze. For Princeton senior 5-seat Franco D'Agostino, today's victory was his third win at Sprints in the past four years. "We were avenging losses to both Yale and Harvard today, so we came in here today with nothing to lose," said D'Agostino after the race. "We have a good set of guys who knew that the only way we were going to win today would be to put our heads down and go to work."
D'Agostino also reflected on an interesting trajectory to becoming a three-time Sprints champion; originally from Venezuela, D'Agostino arrived at Andover wanting to play tennis, and only turned to rowing after being cut from the tennis team. "It's a little unreal to be here, when I first got to Andover, I didn't even know what rowing was," he said. "I feel blessed to have had an amazing career at Princeton."
Princeton assistant coach Matt Smith credited a good team dynamic for the Tiger heavies team performance. "This has been an interesting spring for us," said Smith after the 2V final. "We've had some ups and downs, but it's a deep group, plain and simple. If you look all the way back at Head of the Charles, we had two eights just a few seconds apart. So, the whole year has been this way, 'who can do what on which day.' These guys have been pushing the 1V all year."
Harvard, Yale and Princeton finished in their seeded order in the 3V in a scorching final. These days you have to go 5:37 win the 3V at Sprints, yeesh.
For Harvard 6-seat Henry Kennelly, that speed is born out of competion during practice. "Every Tuesday and Thursday we're out there butting heads with 36 athletes giving it their all, so when you get that used to that racing energy, and what it takes to come out ahead, it makes the weeks that much more fun."
"These guys were really excited to go out and row a full piece, something they hadn't quite done yet at this point in the season," said Harvard assistant coach Jesse Foglia. "The depth of the program has been our greatest strength; if you were having an off day, the boat sitting next to you would let you know pretty early on."
Harvard also took the 4V, while Wisconsin took the 5V, ahead of Navy. The 5V event saw an unusual display of sportsmanship, in which the third-placed Navy 6V was initially waved off the awards dock, due a pre-regatta protest by Brown over Navy's 6V entry. After the fourth-placed Brown 5V rowers received their bronze medals, they then made the decision as a crew to hand over those medals to the Navy 6V; well rowed Bruno.
The day's stiff tailwind made for sloppy conditions down the lake, and caused more than a few crabs, but none more game-changing than for the fifth-ranked Northeastern Huskies, who crabbed in their heat while in a sure advancing position, and were relegated to the third level final.
Rowing for redemption, the Huskies finished a length of open water ahead in winning the third level final, with a time that would have placed them fifth in the Grand.
The Cornell 1V Lights continued their undefeated season, which has occurred somewhat out of the limelight this year, with a three-seat win over a resurgent Harvard. Fifth-seeded Penn took third.
"We were very confident in our ability, but obviously Harvard has a tremendous amount of speed," said Cornell bow seat Eric Johnson. "We knew it was going to be a great race. For us, we've been able to establish a culture at Cornell, and we were able to have a lot of trust in our boat that can't be found on the erg or anywhere else."
For Cornell head coach Chris Kerber, the result wasn't surprising. "This was expected," Kerber stated baldly. "We totally thought we could do this, it was ours to lose. We didn't have a whole lot of information about other teams and how they've progressed at the end of the season, so it was really just about us and about how we could trust each other in the drama of racing."
Harvard took the Light 2V ahead of Yale and Navy, and the Harvard rowers were quick to credit the revitalized team culture around Newell boathouse as at least part of the factor.
"Coach Boyce has done a great job of rallying the team and providing a direction for the program," said Harvard's Chris Wales after the race. "We just started from the ground up. The guys were pretty hungry after a couple of off years, they were really ready to start working, and they all bought in. It all starts with small steps, breaking down the large goals of doing better into individual practices, individual races, and individual strokes, and it all came together."
As if to demonstrate that, despite the conditions, the lake was fair, Yale took the Light 3V from lane 6, waging a hard-fought battle across the course with Princeton and Harvard in lanes 1 and 2.
"To be honest, we were a little worried about the lane," said Yale bowseat Pavle Krivokapic after the race. "We believed in our fitness, we believed in what we've been doing all year, and just went for it. The other crews were so far away, you just don't see lanes 1 and 2, so we didn't know how it was going to end up until the finish."
"Well, we didn't plan on coming third in the heat," said Yale Lightweight coach Andy Card. "But it worked out for them, good for those guys."
Harvard won the Jope Cup for overall lightweight supremacy this year after a few years in the proverbial wilderness, and first-year coach Bill Boyce was quick to share the credit for his team's performance.
"This has been a really fun turnaround for these guys," said Boyce after the race. "We worked to create a thought-out, competitive environment, and these guys just thrived in it. They're good kids, they love to race, and we had them race each other frequently!" Boyce also acknowledged that the coaching surroundings at Harvard helped. "Charlie [Butt, Harvard heavyweight head coach, ed] coached this squad for 30 years, and I coach alongside him for a few years. That relationship has permeated the entire boathouse; they are doing similar things to what we are doing, we're all out to prove ourselves, it's been an awesome environment under his guidance. Tons of credit to him."
The Navy Lights, in winning the 4V, became this year's winners of the "Joke Cup," while also capturing the Light 5V.