The Yale heavies continued to dominate their Eastern competition at the EARC Sprints, claiming an unprecedented fourth-straight win in the Men's Varsity Eight (prior to 2017, Yale had never won the 1V more than twice in a row), as well as their second consecutive Rowe Cup points win, also a first.
On the other end of the scale (no pun intended), the Columbia Lightweights won the Varsity Lightweight Eight for only the second time and the first time since 2000, and also claimed the Jope Cup for lightweight supremacy for the first time in program history.
For the Yale Varsity, the only question seemed to be "by how much," as the crew bolted to a huge early lead and never looked back, winning the final by a little open water. Behind Yale, there was an almighty tussle for the podium as Harvard and Brown finished a deck apart for silver and bronze, leaving Princeton another half-second behind in fourth. Northeastern and BU rounded out the final.
The Yale heavyweight 1V took the win by open water
"We've won the 1V for the past four years, but we've won the Rowe Cup for the last two, which is the real achievement" said four seat Paul Jacquot. "It speaks to the team dynamic we have, which is conducive to great work and everyone pushing each other. We always say, rowing is not like boxing, you can't defend your title, you have to go get it every time. If you stay on offense every single practice and every single race, the previous results don't weigh on you," he said.
"They're veterans," said Yale coach Steve Gladstone after the race. "A lot of these guys have won a whole lot of races, so when the time comes to go, they know how to do it."
The Yale heavies also captured the Rowe Cup for team points
For Yale, the biggest impact was the return of Junior Charlie Elwes to the crew after missing nine weeks with a rib stress fracture. Elwes acknowledged the challenge of coming back into an undefeated crew, and proving that he could contribute.
"The biggest thing this time around was making sure I was in contact with the team," said Elwes. "Our boathouse is 25 minutes away, and I was on a bike back on campus, so I had to reassure everyone that I was getting in the miles. Rowing is a very team oriented sport, and we're a tight-knit group of guys, and it was tough being away from the team for so long."
Elwes also made the point that earning his seat back was important to him. "I came back into the Varsity, but I had to seat race back in. I think, for me, I needed to prove to the rest of the team that I could slot in and make the boat go faster."
Gladstone was succinct on the value of Elwes to the crew. "Charlie Elwes is the real deal," said Gladstone. "He will be on the podium in Tokyo."
Enroute to the Rowe Cup win, Yale was second in the 2V, won the 3V, was third in the 4V, while the first Yale heavyweight 5V in many years was 7th.
Princeton took the heavyweight 2V
With wins in the 2V and 4V, and a silver in the 3V, the Princeton heavies were Yale's closest pursuers. Assistant coach Matt Smith credited the competitive boathouse culture in Princeton for the team's success.
"Between all five of our boats here there is a true upward pressure of guys. The 2V will get beat by the 3V or 4V on occasion, so they're just happy to race other teams on days like this," said Smith. "You have to make them understand the big picture, we're here to push each other, it's not about any one boat. It's not easy, but credit to the Seniors for doing a lot of work in building up that culture."
With bronze medals in the 1V and 2V, Brown was the only team outside of Yale to reach the podium in both events. Brown coach Paul Cooke spoke about the value of peaking, and ways to guide athletes into top performances on the big days of the season.
"It comes down to the last moment, so you never know," said Cooke. "You're always trying to find the right way to get everyone prepared and have them in the right state of mind. We're in exams right now, so the challenge is having the guys being able to practice well while going through that. I just think the guys did a great job doing that today."
Going into the Sprints, the EARC lightweights were having a more "typical" year, with no undefeated crews leading up to the championship, but the Columbia lightweights made it clear from the opening heat that they were fine with being the favorites today, and won the event by a length.
"We haven't won this event since Tom Terhaar, maybe the best coach to ever live, was coaching at Columbia," said C150s coach Nich Lee Parker after the race.
The Columbia Light 1V took their first title since '00
"We were able to pull it off, but honestly, it wasn't our best race," said Columbia oarsman Ben Landis. "It was windy out there, and at times we lost our composure, but in the end the training paid off, and we didn't even need a perfect race to win, that's what we train for, so we prepared perfectly."
For Landis, 'perfect preparation' was Columbia's advantage on the day. "Our coach says this every season, we want to be so prepared that even if not everything goes perfectly, we can still win, and I think this is the first year where we were actually able to do that. We have to treat every single practice, every single piece as if it was the race itself, so we don't expect ourselves to do anything special on race day. On race day, we just do what we do in practice."
Columbia's Parker echoed the sentiment of his crew. "We keep focusing on the specific task we need to improve every week or every practice," he said. "If we do that, we know the outcomes will come later, it's just a very process-driven experience. It's hard to do if you only start in spring season, but the way we structure the year, these guys are doing that from the very beginning. It's built into practice, it's built into winter training, so by the time they get here, there are specific parts of the race, we practice this over and over again, so there are portions of the race where they know they don't need to do anything, they can just focus on boat speed."
Emblematic of the Columbia's depth this year was the fact that two members of the Columbia 2016 national championship crew were racing in the 2V this year; the CU 2V capped an undefeated regular season with a Sprints win as well.
"It's awesome, the team this year is so young," said Columbia Senior captain John Maloney. "The two guys who won the IRA as sophomores and are now in the 2V is just a reflection of how much better our team has gotten this year. As much fun as it is to win the 1V in something, it's so much better to have the whole team out here."
Maloney, himself a member of the '16 IRA champion crew, reflected on the balance between any personal feelings he might have about racing in the 2V and being part of a strong team. "It's a testament to how close our team is, outside of practice," said Maloney. "I PR'd on every erg workout this season, and I'm in the best shape I've ever been in, but our Freshmen are just that good, and that's awesome. The Seniors are leaving knowing we left the team better than we found it, and that makes us really proud and happy for everyone."
Columbia's historic achievement would take a while to sink in, Maloney said. "It's pretty crazy. We were pretty nervous for the whole day, even after the 2V came down and won, and nothing was relieved until the 1V came down."
The Columbia Light 2V stayed undefeated
Perhaps a little bit lost amidst Columbia's day was Penn's surprising bronze in the 1V. The Quakers, seeded 7th, scored an upset over third-seeded Yale in the heat (although Yale was slowed by an injury, read more below), and then continued their roll in the final, beating Harvard by half a length for the last spot on the podium from the outside, shore lane of the course.
"A lot of credit to the coxswain, Larissa Klufas, for managing the race and giving them the information that they needed from that lane," said Penn coach Colin Farrell after the race. "It's easy to be looking at the whole field in a race like that, but they're good athletes, and they knew what to do."
Penn's Farrell also talked about prepping his crew for the regatta and their surprising leap to the medal stand. "We know the athletes we have, and the way this league is, so tight all year, but we never felt like we weren't getting better, or that we didn't know what we needed to do to be here," said Farrell. "That confidence is really big."
One coach who was not surprised at Penn's performance was Cornell's Chris Kerber. "I would never count Colin's crews out," said Kerber. "He knows how to get his crews ready...he studied psychology at Cornell!"
As with the Princeton heavyweights, the Princeton lights fed off a strong boathouse culture to capture the silver in the 1V, bronze in the 2V and golds in the 3V and 4V lightweight events for their best overall performance at Sprints since 2010.
"It's not hard to achieve if you can remind athletes that they are going to have a good experience regardless of what boat they actually end up racing in," said Princeton lightweight assistant coach Bill Manning.
"If it appears that only the guys and gals in the top boats are having a good experience, then you have a problem. But the smiles on the 4V when they win, and the 3V when they have a successful practice or a victory like they did today, then it self-perpetuates. The big thing is that they have to feel like their time is well spent.
"They're busy, they have so many obligations on campus academically and otherwise, they have to feel like they are getting something out of the two hours that they're spending down at the boathouse every day. For the most part, that's a combination of social, they like being around each other, and it's also a sense of improvement. If you are improving at something, you tend to feel pretty good about yourself and what you are doing."
The Yale Varsity lightweight eight was forced to substitute an oarsman into the crew after Senior stroke seat Will Harrington was injured with about 500m left in the morning heat as the third-seeded crew failed to advance to the Grand. Yale coach Andy Card conferred with the officials, who cleared Yale to use any rower who had raced at least once on the day; a 4V oarsman subbed in after his final, the lineup was shuffled, and the reformed crew won the Petite final and qualified the crew for the IRA to boot.
Princeton took the lightweight 4V event, and with it the coveted Joke Cup.
NOTES FROM THE COURSE
From the "teach the walk-ons all the important rules" department, one crew racing in a final jumped a slide on the first stroke of the race, then limped all the way to the finish because the oarsman was unaware of the start zone breakage rule. The coxswain's reaction was to stand up in the boat, and bellow "Why didn't anyone SAY anything??!!!" down the shell after the crew crossed the line, before the crew sheepishly admitted they didn't know the rule.
One winning crew made it to the awards dock only to find that the previous year's winner had forgotten to return the trophy for this year's race; unfazed, the crew took their awards photos with another event's cup, with the trophy label conveniently obscured.
After a calm and gray start to the day, and fast times in the AM, the wind swung around to a building headwind that kept times slow for the afternoon finals, despite bright sunshine.
Given the wind forecast, the EARC fairness commission inverted the lanes for the morning heats, moving the favored crews to the far lanes of the course, but more than one coach noted during the day that the lake seemed absolutely fair all the way across.
Even as the speed & depth of collegiate rowing increases, attention for the sport wavers or even wanes; for the first time in quite a while, there was no mention of the Eastern Sprints racing or results in Monday's Boston Globe.
Afternoon sunshine brought the crowds