As crews and coaches go through their final adjustments, rituals and secret rites leading up to the 8am start to this year's IRA, all eyes are on the Huskies of UW, who come into the regatta on such a fearsome boathouse roll that it's not impolite to talk about a regatta-wide race for second in the heavyweight events. The Huskies, defending Champs in the V8, 2V and Ten Eyck point trophy, have once again tallied up a big pile of wins during the year, with their last test occurring 3 weeks ago at the PAC-12 Championships, where the closest result for any UW boat was winning by "only" two seats of open water in the F8.
That said, there are plenty of crews who will be ready if UW stumbles, and there's more to the IRA than heavyweight men, so here's a quick look at the way things look early in regatta week
While Washington was having their way out West, the regular season back East was one for the ages, with Harvard running the table but for the last 30 strokes at the Eastern Sprints, where the Brown V8 had one extra gear to deny Harvard the win. That rematch adds flavor to an already deep pile of good crews, while #4 Cal, #5 Wisconsin and #6 Princeton are certainly not going to go away easily.
The opening heats offer a few good chances at an upset and an opportunity for an ambitious crew to get their regatta off to a strong start. Look for Stanford to offer a stiff challenge in the Harvard/Cal heat, while Northeastern, who had a promising Sprints derailed by illness mid-Regatta, and a strong Navy crew will challenge in the Washington/Princeton heat. The Syracuse/Brown/Wisconsin/Yale tussle that opens the regatta has probably a couple of good upset opportunities built in; Syracuse was a Sprints Grand-finalist a few weeks ago.
2nd Varsity Eight
It's UW and UW at the top of the pile in the JV Eight, with Washington atop the polls here as well, this time ahead of likewise undefeated Sprints winner Wisconsin and Cal at #3. Going by in-season results, the top three crews are separated by a neat length apiece, with UW defeating #3 Cal by a length of open water at PAC12s, while Wisconsin had the measure of Cal by a length at Redwood Shores early in the season. Harvard, Princeton and Brown are the other seeded 2Vs in this event, with upset hopes hedged by Navy, Cornell and Syracuse.
There's real depth in the Freshman Eight in 2012, on the evidence of the close wins by Washington (over Cal) and Harvard (over Northeastern) at the respective end of season regattas. Even as those four crews are bunched tightly at the top, with any of those four crews realistically capable of claiming the title. Cornell, Brown and Princeton also have the speed to make an impression.
Men's Lightweight Eight
Seven crews will contest the Men's Lightweight Eight National championship field; Sprints champs Harvard, Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale, Georgetown, Cornell and Columbia, who used a furious Petite-Final finish to claim the final IRA qualifying spot. Lightweight racing among the EARC crews has was ferocious during the season, and it's not uncommon the final race of the year turn the regular season results right on their ear (exhibit "A", the Yale lights in 2011). There's plenty of pedigree in the field, with Harvard arriving in Camden undefeated and Dartmouth coming off their 2nd Sprints Silver medal in two years.
Women's Lightweight Eight
Similarly, there are seven entries in the Women's Lightweight Eight National Championship event. These crews will race heats and a rep to determine the 6 crews racing in the Grand on Saturday; the field is made up of Bucknell, Georgetown, MIT, Princeton, Radcliffe, Stanford and Wisconsin. The matchup between the recent powerhouses in Lightweight Women's rowing, Stanford and Wisconsin, is intriguing, as each team has beaten the other this year, with Stanford holding a 2-1 head-to-head advantage. Beyond those two crews, Bucknell, Radcliffe and Georgetown, who finish in places 2-4 at Sprints, are all capable of getting a toehold on the podium.
The Men's Varsity, Open and Lightweight Fours are all being contested at the regatta; the Men's Open Four (12 entries) and Men's Varsity Four (16 entries) will showcase both some of the deeper squads as well as a few top fours from teams that just missed getting a team bid, while Men's Lightweight Four, with 10 crews entered (including a rare Light Men's entry from Wisconsin) looks to serve up greatly entertaining racing. The Women's Lightweight Four, with 7, continues to provide a platform for Lightweight women's teams to throw their best strokes down.
The fours racing is seeded at random, which can lead to some entertainingly deep races. Witness this brutal heat of the Men's Open Four: Washington, Wisconsin, Brown, Harvard, Princeton and Navy.
At a svelte nine events on the regatta program, with a smaller entry overall, the IRA isn't the unruly beast it once was, but there should be no mistaking the size of the field for its quality; come Thursday at 8am, the racing on the Cooper will be fierce.