The WPI Men took their first Varsity Eight win at the New England Championships since 1979, while Bates took the Women's Varsity, 2nd Varsity, and Men's 2nd Varsity Eights, adding silvers in the Men's Varsity and Women's 3V to cement their status as the deepest program in the league.
WPI, who had led last year's Men's Varsity Eight final for most of the way down the course before being reeled in by Bates, came back to seal the deal this year, pegging their boat to a solid lead and then finishing strong for the win. Their win, the home-team program's first since 1979, and only the third overall, had team members and parents elated, and members of the coaching staff in tears on the awards dock.
"Every group has its charms, but this group of guys are just hard workers," said WPI head coach Larry Noble after the race. "They just committed to the work all year long, a lot of them rowed in the summer, they trained on their own in the winter, they just did what had to be done. They're just a great bunch of kids to work with, we have such a great family at WPI, parents, alumni, the athletic department are all so supportive, it's not just about those nine kids in the boat."
While the title drought was not on their minds, according to Noble, their inability to finish the race last year definitely was. "That was on our minds!" said Noble with a laugh. "There are five seniors in that boat, and they've all had a certain amount of success, but they've never won. That experience [in 2016] of leading the race convinced them that they could do it, and convinced them that if they did the work, they could finish ahead. They were determined to go out on top, and they did it."
Bates, despite mounting a charge, was not able to catch WPI, while URI took bronze in a rare podium finish in the event.
The Bates women were near-unchallenged on Quinsigamond this year, winning the 1V and 2V races in commanding fashion. "Our women's side is quite a bit younger than you might suspect," said Bates head coach Peter Steenstra after the racing. "It's a very strong, recruited freshman class and a big, strong junior class that makes up the bulk of the team."
Wesleyan was second and Williams was third in the event, in a battle between these teams that will certainly go a few more rounds at the NIRC and in the DIII NCAA racing.
Despite missing out on a rare chance to sweep the top four eights at the regatta, Bates' Steenstra was not disappointed. "We're still only in about four weeks of being on the water, so we know there is a lot of speed left in that boat," he said after the finish of the Men's Varsity eight. "We've been training the guys hard. Did they go into that to win it? Of course they did, that's the whole point."
For the second weekend running, the weather was a factor at Quinsigamond on the day, with a massive headwind, peaking out at 20mph straight up the lake, creating challenging conditions at the start and all the way down the course. Race organizers suspended racing after the third Grand Final of the afternoon, and then modified the schedule, cutting races in the afternoon until only the 1V and 2V eights grands and petite finals remained.
The altered schedule had ramifications across the racing program, as the winners in the Varsity Fours, and 3V and Novice eights were all determined by the results of the morning time trials that had been run to determine seedings for the finals, while the points trophies competitions were cancelled outright. If there was ever a good example to take every race seriously, this was it; based on their time trials performances, UMass-Lowell took the Women's Varsity Four title, while Boston College claimed the Men's Varsity Four. In the lower eights racing, Williams claimed both the Women's 3V and Men's Novice Eights crowns, also based on the time trials results.
For teams like Bates, which place great pride in the points trophy at New Englands, the effects of the cancellation were limited. "What I told the four varsity eights, when they launched in the afternoon, was, 'You now represent everybody,'" said Bates' Steenstra. "You are the only ones getting to go on the racecourse here, so you need to do your job, and you're out there for the 3Vs and the fours that aren't out there racing."
While not ideal, going with the time trial results had the necessary effect of not cancelling entire events outright. "This was the first year that this regatta did time trials, and it was important that those events do have emphasis," said USRowing's Katie Boldvich, regatta co-director. "If you are doing the events, you want to do them right, so we felt it was important to award the medals out of the time trials, because those athletes did get to race, and did show something on the water, so they deserve to be rewarded for that."