While the absence of the Women's Ivy League teams without a doubt has changed the complexion of the Women's Sprints, there should be no doubt of the Sprints' cachet as a championship: fully four of the 12 teams in attendance arrive at Sprints as champions of their respective conferences. Virginia (Atlantic Coast), Rhode Island (Atlantic 10), Northeastern (Colonial Athletic) and Bucknell (Patriot League) have already claimed conference team championship titles this spring.
Few would dispute that the University of Virginia is the favorite going into the Women's Sprints. The Cavaliers are ranked first in all three NCAA events going into the regatta after a stellar spring that has seen UVa at or near the top of the polls all season.
"Our season has gone well and we look forward to having our best races at the Sprints," said UVa Head Coach Kevin Sauer. "Obviously the Sprints will not have the Ivy League schools this year but we look forward to great competition from those schools that are racing."
In the Varsity Eight, UVa's top-ranked crew will look to see off challenges from Northeastern, Boston University and Bucknell, while Rhode Island will be looking for a stellar effort to get into the medals. The Virginia V8 has shown great speed all spring, and, on the evidence of a resounding win over a strong and previously undefeated Michigan crew on April 28th, seems to be rounding into championship form.
Northeastern looks to be the only team that could have a hope to put pressure the Cavaliers, given their 7-second margin over BU in winning the CAA Championships. The Huskies of NU have been on a steady climb this spring; in early March, NU fell to Clemson by a length, but by late April, NU was able to finish ahead of that same Clemson crew that had themselves gone on to take second to Virginia at the ACC championships. Headed into the Women's Sprints, NU owns recent quality wins over Sprints contenders BU and Rhode Island.
Boston University, Bucknell and Rhode Island will all be close. Prior to its loss to Northeastern in the final of the Colonial Athletic Championships, the BU Varsity had won its last three contests, including two consecutive, close wins over Sprints competitors URI.
Bucknell meanwhile has had a competent season, but had to fight to win the Varsity Eight at the Patriot League championships over MIT. "Our season has gone well up to this point," said Bucknell coach Dan Wolleben. "We are hoping to continue the process of improving from day to day and race competitively at the Women's Sprints."
Rhode Island will be riding a wave of confidence coming off a convincing win at the Atlantic-10 Championships the week before Sprints. "We have had a good season," said URI Head Coach Shelagh Donohoe. "I am looking forward to Sprints as it will give my team another opportunity to race against good competition and another chance to execute their race plan."
Rounding out the top six of the Sprints field, MIT has enjoyed a rise in speed this year, and arrive at Sprints with hopes for a good performance. "MIT has had an incredible season this year," said fifth-year Head Coach Holly Metcalf. "The Sprints is our opportunity to race again, to reach our top speed, and rejoice in the transformation of our program from an unknown to one that has earned respect from our competitors and most important, from within our student-athletes themselves. We are hoping to make the finals in all of our events."
The 2nd Varsity Eight will see similar competition, with Virginia the crew to beat. Rhode Island, Northeastern and Bucknell are all aiming to pace the Cavaliers, who will look to Sprints to rebound from back to back losses to Ohio State and Michigan. Of all the events, the 2V looks to hold the most intrigue as athletes battle for championship season spots in the top boats.
In the Varsity Four "A," UMass, BU and Buffalo are Virginia's strongest competition. With strong conference championship showings from several of the smaller programs, the fours racing should provide high quality competition across the board at the Women's Sprints.
Even as the landscape of women's collegiate rowing continues to shift, and the regatta shows its new face, the 2012 Women's Sprints will showcase racing from the major, non-Ivy eastern conferences at Camden.