With the second (and a half) April weekend of racing approaching, a bin full of results to look at, and more racing coming up, the collegiate men's rowing season is starting to sort out in a way that makes judging where crews stand this spring and where they could be headed more realistic.
So far this season, crews expected to do well have mostly performed to expectations - even with the twists and turns that come with injuries and conditions and changing lineups. Just last weekend, racing between Stanford and Washington in Seattle had to be moved from Saturday to Friday to stay in front of an approaching weather system. (Check out the race photos.) Further, an oar clash reported in the Stanford release made for an even trickier weekend in the PNW.
On the East Coast, a determined winter weather pattern left crews rowing in bitterly cold, wet and windy conditions. In Boston on Saturday a stiff head wind was strong enough that geese trying to get over the Mass Ave Bridge at mid-span were just about flying in place. Sunday was better - the wind had died down (some) - but it was still freezing.
Racing in Boston required extreme gear
It's an outdoor sport, or so the saying goes, so it is not unusual or unexpected for early spring conditions to be challenging.
This was not the case in parts of California, where the Cal Bears took full advantage of the always available water time to gear up for the San Diego Crew Classic, dominate with a sweep of everything, and then duck back into some distance and even-boat training and selection while key West Coast rivals got into their schedules.
Weekend Recap and Look Ahead
Cal Crew Classic varsity lineup
Mostly based off of results from last season's IRA (Yale won) the Head of the Charles (Cal won) and then the Crew Classic performance (Cal won), Cal and Yale have sat at the top of the first four-weeks of polling - mostly.
Yale led in week one; Cal took over in week two after the San Diego sweep. Harvard moved into second and Yale dropped into a four-way logjam for third with Washington, Princeton and Northeastern.
Last week, the polling sorted out some more as Cal stayed in first, Yale moved into second followed by Washington, Harvard and Princeton in the top five. The USRowing Collegiate Men's April 11 poll showed slight movement, Harvard dropped to seven and Brown took their fourth place spot.
Polls make for interesting conversation, but then there is the actual racing . . .
This weekend, Mike Teti's squad comes out of training mode and back into the fray at the Stanford Invitational at Redwood Shores where they will race Oregon State and Wisconsin Saturday.
Teti told row2k Tuesday that, after the Crew Classic, he went back into selection mode, rowing more distance pieces in equal boats to try and sort out the best lineup for his top eight. "We still have 11 or 12 real candidates for the boat. A lot of times, it's not the eight best guys that make the best boat, it's the best combination," Teti said.
"Preparing for San Diego, we did a little bit of speed work, and then had the two days of racing. We know the lineup we had was pretty decent, but we also know it was not good enough to win (insert IRA here.)
"I think for us, it's all internal right now," Teti said. "This is how fast we're going, and it's not fast enough to win. We need to improve technically, and we need the right combination. I think the crew is better than we were in San Diego, but we need to be because everybody else is going to be better."
Washington, Cal's chief rival in the Pac-12, is off this weekend, but Cal, Washington and Stanford get into it the following weekend for "The Big Row."
Among the EARC squads, crews have been trading punches and wins. Harvard led Brown in the week-three poll and then lost to Brown's 1V on the Seekonk in Providence Saturday. Harvard's second and third crews won the other two races.
Looking forward, Harvard sees Princeton in Boston Saturday. Princeton won all three of its first three events, so a big test on the Charles is coming.
New and Improved
Northeastern on the Charles
Last season, Dartmouth and Northeastern were petite finalists at the IRA. This season both crews have benefited from freshman additions. Dartmouth swept Columbia, Holy Cross and MIT in Boston, March 31st. Then, during a home dual against Yale on Saturday, Dartmouth lost but the margins were close enough in the 1V to grab some attention (2.5 seconds with three freshmen and three sophomores in the boat.)
Talking this week about the way his young crew has been racing, head coach Wyatt Allen said the three freshman have boosted expectations for this season.
"We lost six guys out of the varsity last year and coming into this year, we were prepared for it to be a bit of a rebuilding year," Allen said. "But these guys have come in and exceeded our expectations and made us competitive in the varsity eight."
Allen was careful to point out that the season is still young, like his crew. "It's still early in the season, so we are being cautious. There are other teams that have freshman in their boats and are doing well. There is still a lot of the season left."
Northeastern is one of those other crews with freshman in the boat that are having an impact. Following a win over Penn at the Crew Classic in dual racing and a third-place finish in the Sunday Grand Final, Northeastern followed on April 7 by taking the Arlett Cup over Boston University on the Charles with three freshmen and two sophomores in the crew. Brown visits the Huskies on the Charles Saturday. BU goes to Hanover to race Dartmouth.
"They are definitely young and there are only two guys that have ever raced at the varsity level before," Northeastern head coach John Pojednic told row2k. "Even the guys that are upper classmen in the boat are pretty young. They've gotten good results all year and we expected that to show up on the race course this spring.
"So I don't think we've been surprised by anything we've seen, but we've been happy to see that they can be competitive. Still, I think we've got quite a ways to go before we can tell who is really going fast and who isn't," he said. "There are a lot of variables this time of year throughout the league."
Haravrd lightweight V8 racing Sunday
The lightweight men's polling has held defending national champion Cornell at the top of the first three polls, and for the last two weeks, Princeton has held second. In the (April 4), the rankings went Cornell, Princeton, Columbia, Harvard, Yale.
But the lights have also been slugging it out and the polling results were shaken up this week, particularly after last weekend's racing and Harvard's performance against Cornell in Ithaca on Saturday, and Columbia on the Charles Sunday.
When the poll came out Wednesday, Cornell had dropped from first to seventh and Columbia moved into first, Harvard rose to second.
At Cornell, Harvard swept all its races against the defending national champs, snapping the Cornell win streak it piled up last season. Columbia, meanwhile, beat Navy in Overpeck Park to win the WIT Cup, and then traveled to Boston for an early Sunday race with Harvard. (See the race photos.)
"The script is a little different this year," head coach Chris Kerber told row2k, "but the coaching staff are embracing the challenge with all that it is required. The athletes and the leadership on the squad are navigating this piece with sincere acumen. As previously stated, you cannot turn your back on this league; there no gimmies. This is what defines the competition in the EARC lights as really exceptional."
On Sunday, Harvard's 1V led from the Basin start and never relinquished to beat Columbia and take the Wales-Kirrane Cup. Harvard defeated both Columbia and Georgetown in the first and final sets, but dropped the 2V in the last 500-meters after leading Columbia through most the course in their race.
Asked about his crew's performance, Harvard head coach Billy Boyce said, "We are pleased with the first week of racing, but there is plenty of hard racing ahead of us and we look forward to the challenge."
This weekend, watch for cup racing between Columbia, Yale and Penn (Dodge Cup) at Columbia; Harvard vs Dartmouth (Biglin Cup) at Hanover; Cornell vs. Princeton (Platt Cup) at Cornell; Navy vs Georgetown (Foster Cup) at Navy.
American Collegiate Rowing Association
Virginia at the Murphy Cup
The ACRA poll is in its third week and has not seen a lot of movement. hird week. Virginia has led since the first voting was posted with only slight variation of the top five in the March 28, April 4, and April 11 results. On March 28, the top four were Michigan, Orange Coast, UC Santa Barbara, and Purdue. Week two saw Army move to third, Michigan drop to fourth, and Purdue drop to six.
Released Wednesday, the April 11 ACRA poll had Orange Coast in second, followed by Army, Michigan, and Purdue.
Unlike in the varsity programs, the club based ACRA teams do not race as much early on and do not have dual cup racing. So, results are even more difficult to come by and discern, Virginia head coach Frank Biller told row2k.
"I just filled out my first poll," Biller said Tuesday. Biller said he waited until this week to submit his poll votes because, "There really are no results this early, so it's hard to figure out. I think a lot the ACRA teams take longer to get to speed because the majority of our athletes are walkons.
"Varsity and Ivies program have all these cup races, but our budgets are a bit smaller so we can't travel." Biller said Virginia has informal scrimmages as part of their spring training but his squads have raced officially only once.
That was at the April 14 Murphy Cup in Philadelphia, where Virginia finished fourth in a final that was mostly filled and led by Dad Vail schools. St. Joe's won, followed by Drexel and Marist. Temple was fifth, Army was sixth. Michigan placed third in the petite final.
ACRA teams will get results from this coming weekend from both the Lubbers Cup on Michigan's Spring Lake and the Kerr Cup in Philadelphia.
Biller said that with the limited schedule, it is "important that we do the best we can with the preparation we have done. I do think we are the favorites this year. But you never know.
"We don't get to see the West Coast teams until the ACRA Championships. I think you will see changes this week from number two to 10. And then there will be changes again once we get through the racing this weekend."