Just after trekking from coast to coast in eight days looking to get his squad quality race experience while waiting for the ice to melt back home, Wisconsin men's coach Chris Clark brought up the fact that traveling that much, and that early, had an impact on his crews.
It happened at the Stanford Invite the second weekend of April. Wisconsin dropped races to Cal and the Stanford on Saturday and then beat Oregon State the next day.
"Only afterwards did I say to them that I could tell the 6,000 miles of traveling we've done in the last eight days had taken a toll," Clark was quoted in the race report as telling his athletes.
Talking with row2k this week, Clark explained that the Badgers had left a frozen Lake Mendota for their spring break, and were only back for three days of practice at home on the just opened Lake and, "boom, we were off to Syracuse. Then we came back home for practice Monday, and again Thursday left for California."
Clark is used to that kind of spring. He's been coaching at Wisconsin long enough to know "that kind of travel for us is just the lay of the land; no pun intended, but it just is."
But even if moving around that much is exhausting, on the athletes and the coaches, he is reluctant to mention it in pre-or post-race talks. "I can’t telegraph that to the guys. If there is any seed of doubt and the coach looks like he's making excuses, that doesn't help."
The explanation Clark was giving about the travel weariness and his reluctance to talk about it during a race weekend had more to do with a different kind of journey his current squad has been on. That journey is about a culture change, about learning that top college rowing is hard; learning to be what he calls "willing and able."
In explaining it, Clark said while that might just be a phrase, it is something he needed his athletes to understand, and something he said had lost its meaning in his boathouse over the past few seasons.
"The last few years, we had a lot of able people, but just not willing people. I don't mean they crossed their arms and acted like they were back in kindergarten and they won't go out to play," Clarke said. "I don't mean that. I mean just a lack of either understanding or to be willing to just give in and accept what college rowing is all about, and how hard you have to go, and how good you have to be to be competitive. But now I have a team loaded with willing people."
That journey is one Clark believes will continue through the rest of this season and into the next, and one he hopes will bring his team the kind of results being "willing and able" can bring a team and lead to a title at Eastern Sprints and the IRA Championship, something that has evaded the Badgers for a while.
This year's regular season travels are over. Except for two weekends on the East coast for Sprints (Worcester) and the IRA (Mercer), Wisconsin can stay home and play host to a weekend of racing with teams from the East coming to them.
Wisconsin will play host to BU, Northeastern and MIT, at nearby Devils Lake State Park, in what will be a major tune up for all four schools before the championship weekend begins on both coasts.
(Listen to Clark talk about the weekend at a taped press conference.)
Right now, there is not a lot any program will be able to do to drastically alter the poll rankings, or seeding into the regional championships, and this weekend and next will be more about tweaking, or finally settling on lineups - but major surprises may be unlikely.
More of the heavy men racing this weekend includes:
Washington defated Cal for the Bear's only loss this season
Cal, which has held first in the polls since the opening weekend of racing, is going into the weekend ranked second after Washington (now ranked first) handed them their first defeat last weekend at the annual Washington-Cal Dual, and races at Stanford at Redwood shores Saturday in "The Big Row."
Washington will sit on the top and have an off weekend to prepare for the May 5 Windermere Cup.
Princeton has Brown at home. Dartmouth has Syracuse Saturday and then Georgetown in Sunday in Hanover. Harvard races Northeastern Saturday on the Charles before the Huskies travel to Wisconsin for Sunday racing on Devil's Lake.
HYP raced in Princeton
This season has seen a change at the top with last year's national champion Cornell struggling to find their footing in the Sprints league. Ranked third in the coach's poll, the 1V has not scored a win in cup racing this spring. Cornell has a final chance this Saturday at Hanover vs Dartmouth, which has also gone winless this spring and comes into the weekend at 11 in the poll.
Second-ranked Columbia, which is having a fast season and whose top varsity has lost only once (to Harvard) hosts Drexel University Saturday at home as their final tune-up before Eastern Sprints.
The featured bout this week is the always tough Harvard-Yale-Princeton Goldthwait Cup battle, hosted this Saturday at Yale. Harvard should be the favored crew based on their so far undefeated performance and ranking in the polls. That, however, is as far as it should go keeping in the mind the age tested sports cliché "That's why they play the games."
Princeton coach Marty Crotty agrees with that assessment and knows that on this weekend, with these three crews, and all the tradition is wrapped into the more than ninety-years of history of the HYP, "this is anyone's race.
"Andy (Card) has been doing this for almost 30 years, Harvard has half a boat load that knows how to win this race because they won it last year, and we've got five guys back that raced in two or three of these things. So, add it all together and you got three boats that could win it."
The HYP race is among the collegiate events that brings alums out of the woodwork and keeps coaches in constant phone contract with guys who have raced the event and know what's at stake, Crotty said.
"The tradition is awesome," he said. "I have interacted with a lot of alums this week. Look, it's not like phone lights up every week, but this week it does. Alums, or classmates, or people that you rowed with, or people who are interested in your program, if they have your cell phone number, this is the week they text you. They give you a nudge.
"As the coach, you don't need to be reminded what's coming up, but it's interesting, there's just a lot more chatter," Crotty said. "I really enjoy it because this is the week that people check in and that's a reflection of the event. You're just some alum from 1976, and you just get that feeling, because it's the last Saturday in April."
With Yale hosting the event, head lightweight coach Andy Card took a minute to comment on his experiences as both a coach and a Princeton lightweight.
"I took part in my first Goldthwait Cup regatta as a freshman," Card said. "The race that year was in Derby on a brilliant sunny spring day. We were blown off the water in the morning, and the races were postponed until late afternoon when the winds subsided.
"What I remember most besides the racing was the colors of the three schools, particularly the deep dark colors of the hated Yalies and Crimson (which we had waited all year to see). It was like the Colonials getting their first glimpse of the Redcoats in 1774. Damn exciting.
"That 1982 varsity race was the best race I've ever seen, with 5 lead changes among the three crews in the last 500. I've been hooked ever since," Card said. "The HYP is not the only regular season race with high drama or import, but it's one that has been consistently incredible since Dave Vogel brought the Yale lightweights back to high performance in the early 80s, as Gary Kilpatrick did the same with Princeton.
"There have been some incredible coaches in this regatta, not only Dave and Gary but also the amazing Joe Murtaugh of Princeton and of course Charley Butt at Harvard. Steve Gladstone was a part of the HYP too, when Harvard was dominant."
American Collegiate Rowing Association
Virginia held number one after SIRA
The ACRA Championship is still as far off as any of the big spring throw downs, but some of the individual ACRA teams are going into the second week of conference championship racing. Virginia, first in that poll all season, held its position at the top after a strong performance at the Southern Collegiate Rowing Association Championships on Melton Lake in Oak Ridge last weekend. Virginia's 1V finished second behind FIT, but won the men's trophy.
This weekend two top ACRA teams will see championship racing, including Orange Coast (2) and Michigan (3). Gregg Hartsuff's Michigan crews have been having a slow start this spring, in some part due to the persistent winter weather that has either kept the athletes doing indoor training or limiting on water practices when they do get out.
Racing has also been limited to just two outings to date. A weekend that would have seen boats on the start line up to three times at the Lubbers Cup was lost to the weather.
Michigan will finally see some race time this weekend at the Mid-American Collegiate Rowing Association Championship on Harsha Lake.
Out west, Orange Coast College will have an opportunity to extend its dominant season at the Western Collegiate Rowing Association Championship on Lake Natoma.
Orange Coast has been ranked just below Virginia since a strong showing at the San Diego Crew Classic, where the top varsity had the fastest time in the final of all West Coast crews and finished second to Temple University and the University of British Columbia.
The Crew Classic set the Coast crews up for wins over UCLA and UC Irvine. Just like Virginia and Michigan are keeping an eye on Orange Coast, the Pirates are tracking both those crews, knowing that they will not see them on a start platform until the ACRA Championships May 27-27 in Gainesville, Georgia.
Orange Coast races at WIRA
"This is definitely a strong year for us," Orange Coast head coach Cam Brown told row2k. "We've had some really dominant results across the board, from the varsity eight, all the way through to our novice eights, so we're pretty happy with that.
"This is my third year at OCC, and the first couple of years we've been we've been creating the program under my philosophy and my culture. Being a two-year school adds to the element as well because the students are either sophomores or freshman and none were around before me. And so, that helps a little bit in creating a program in the time I've had."
Without opportunities to travel outside of the state, Brown said his crews rely on the different programs near him to gain race experience against fast teams. "We have a great network of schools at the ACRA level, and some of the lower IRA schools as well, that we see several times a year.
"Last year, UC Santa Barbara came first in the varsity eight, and UC Irvine came six. So there is really good competition at that level here. And we've got a pretty competitive circuit with some other schools like UCLA, UC Davis. And then you throw in UC San Diego and U San Diego and Santa Clara, who are all fast crews as well. So, we like to really gauge our speed based on that," Brown said.
"At the same time, we know that there are lot of fast crews on the other side of the country that we don't get to see until we line up at the start line at ACRA."
This Week's Collegiate Poll Results
USRowing Collegiate Poll
EARC HW Men Seeding Poll
EARC LW Men Seeding Poll
American Collegiate Rowing Association Poll