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NCAAs Day 2: Up to Six and Down to Three
Saturday, May 28, 2011
john fx flynn/row2k
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Williams took 1st and 6th in Grand to lock up title

DI Semis: fastest of the fast face off

DIII Championship

Williams, again, is the DIII champion, but this was not exactly a repeat for the Ephs. With a new coach and four new athletes in the 1V, including two former spares, it was the tradition and depth of the Williams program itself on display today. “It’s the team” gushed stroke Emma Pelegri-O’Day: “We all push each other. We trust each other so much.”

That mention of team was fitting on a day when Williams again put both its first and second eight into the DIII final. Bates came second in the points race, as second place finishes in the Grand and in the Petite with Bates II gave them their highest points total ever at NCAAs, just three points shy of the champions. Wellesley took third in the team standings, with Ithaca taking the fourth place trophy back home to the Inlet.

The title continues a Williams streak that now stands at six consecutive titles, earned under three different head coaches. Williams also won the inaugural NCAA DIII Championship in 2002, putting their all time mark at seven titles. (this meant, incidentally, that Williams held the record for most NCAA rowing titles in any division for just about 21 hours over the weekend, before DII Western Washington , and then DI's Brown, each won a seventh of their own).

Williams’ Pelegri-O‘Day, who rowed bow in last year‘s NCAA winning eight before switching to stroke, said that the strength of this Williams program “is the competition from within,” citing the 2V’s ability to make the Grand Final here. “They push every day in practice: if we’re not on our game, they are right there to take advantage of it.”

Coach Brad Hemmerly, who stepped in as an interim coach at Williams last summer when long-time head coach Justin Moore made the move to Syracuse, echoed his stroke when asked about the long dominance of Williams in this event: “It is the competitive nature of the students [at Williams] and the coaches that have been there. Whatever the obstacle, [the team is] finding some way to get around it and not letting that affect where we’re going.”

Hemmerly suggested that defending was not easy: “It’s been a year-long process to get this group to this time and this place. Obviously a coaching change, [but] we just haven’t let anything affect us. Coaching staff and the team were just making sure that what needed to be done was done to secure this and have this opportunity.”

Bates was the most serious challenger all year, with Wellesley pressing from third in a number of races. Those two rounded out the top three here at Natoma. “Bates and Wellesley have been at us all year,” Hemmerly noted, “so we were just trying to go as fast as possible.” He prepared his crew for the final here by talking with them about “not being flustered doing what we know how to do, and executing like we’ve done all year.”

The Bates crew was the only crew to match Williams out of the blocks and, as Peligi-O’Day recalled, “after our high fifteen, it was just us and Bates and we continued to trade moves and work to push away.” “It’s always great to race Bates,” she added. “They’re such a great competitor.”

The coxswain of the eight, Becca Licht, said the crew had talked about using this race to put “the finishing sprint on what we think has been an incredible year to be working as an athlete in this program.” Licht, who steered the Ephs to victory last year as well, added: “We were really happy with our sprint and really happy with our piece today.”

Bates coach Peter Steenstra had seen this exact finish three times already this spring, but praised the “spirit and character” of his student-athletes, especially the juniors and seniors in his top eight. “Three years ago, they were the happiest second place finishers you’ve ever seen,’ he noted “and now here they are, still second place only having gotten faster and having gotten more points every year as the 2V has gotten faster. It’s a team that keeps getting bigger and better, but the problem is Williams is still a little bit bigger and little bit better.”

When asked how he prepared his athletes for racing the strong Williams crew again and again (four times since late April), Steenstra said, “it’s all about finding the difference between disappointment and dissatisfaction. This crew has really figured out how to focus on being dissatisfied with each racing performance and trying to make an improvement from it, as opposed to being disappointed, which has a negative connotation.”

The DIII was arguably deeper here: the Williams 2V was able to take third in last year’s final, but only managed a sixth place here. Of course, it will be another whole year before the programs hoping to end the Williams run get to try again, but if they can keep working, as Bates has, to be motivated by dissatisfaction, Williams may find itself challenged anew in 2012.

D-I Semis

The race for the DI team title shaped up pretty fast this morning, and by the slimmest of margins: just four-hundredths in the second eight costing Princeton a shot at the title this year.

The varsity eights went pretty much by seed with a wide margin between third and fourth to delineate the grand-bound crews from the rest: USC, Princeton, and Cal in semi one, Stanford, Brown, and Michigan State in semi two. Virginia failed to advance to defend their and were the only top-six seed to miss the Grand. Taking their spot, from the other semi, was Michigan State, who--fittingly perhaps--beat Virginia head-to-head in the heat yesterday.

The most notable thing in the V8 semis were the winners: USC and Stanford, both out of lane two, took it home ahead of top-seeded Princeton and Brown respectively. Both trailed early, and even-split their way through the leader in lane one; neither Princeton or Brown looked bothered enough to give chase.

It was the Second Eight semis that started to make things interesting as the team title picture came into sharp focus. In semi one, Brown again looked very ready to take the team race by storm, dominating the 2V field, and Virginia’s depth was on display as they made the Grand in second. Just behind was the battle that may have decided the team title, at least for Princeton: after years of training and thousands of strokes this season, it was just the one last stroke of the race that put USC’s bow ahead of the Tigers. The Women of Troy: on to the Grand and a shot at their first team title. Princeton: headed to the Petite, all by just 0.04 seconds.

Semi two was not as dramatic, with Stanford and Cal, the only two schools in this one with a V8 already through to the Grand, well in control throughout. The rest of the field battled hard for the last available toehold in the big final, with the Ohio State 2V coming through Washington, Wisconsin, and Washington State to claim that spot. The Buckeyes have had a history of performing in the 2V here at NCAAs, and could be in it to play spoiler tomorrow.

Cal qualified here fairly easily, but behind Stanford--a notable result given that Cal’s 2V was on their third race of the weekend thanks to yesterday’s faulty-scale-driven trip through the reps. With tight racing on tap and vital team points at stake in the 2V, fresher legs could come in handy, but the Cal 2V will have to press on with the hand they were dealt.

The fours, as ever, played a role in the big picture as well, with Brown’s shot at a seventh team crown resting on a four that rallied to come through the reps but trailed throughout in the semi, taking fifth. A win in the Petite and big results in the eights could redeem Brown, but four‘s placing makes it a tough task, no question.

Well in front in the Brown semi were the Cal and USC fours, in that order, and Washington held off a furious charge from Princeton’s four to take third. The margin for the Tigers was just 1.02 seconds, meaning that Princeton missed a chance at a team title by a grand total of just about a second. The margin of error does not get much slimmer than that.

The last semi posed just one question: could the Stanford four, seventh at PAC-10s but on far better form here, make it to the Grand and keep Stanford in the hunt for title number two. With Virginia’s perennially strong four in this one and two tough Big Ten boats from Wisconsin and Ohio State, Stanford would be taking the hard road to the Grand\. Virginia led the whole way, and Wisconsin charged out to take second, but the Cardinal’s gutsy effort in lane 4 kept them in third place, eventually as much as a length out on the Buckeyes. With that result, the Cardinal four continues one of the more remarkable turnarounds this spring, and put their team right where they hoped to be.

So the DI title shapes up to be a re-race of the PAC-10 Championships a few weeks ago, hopefully minus the biblical conditions. Cal, USC, and Stanford will have to place well in each event against some tough competition from Brown, Princeton, and Michigan State in the 1V; Brown, Virginia, and Ohio State in the 2V; and Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin in the fours.

DII Repechage

Humboldt State laid down an impressive row in the eights rep here, and Nova Southeastern weathered a late sprint from Seattle Pacific to move on. It was an exciting finish for that last spot, made even closer by a massive charge on the part of Loggers who stormed up the beach but came just short of the Sharks.

The fours rep, a two boat affair that is also the only elimination race of the NCAA regatta did not turn out so well for Nova Southeastern, and Humboldt rowed away early and cruised to a 24 second win. With just four crews in this even and a three boat final, the four from Nova Southeastern is now done racing here.

The team race in DII now comes down to Western Washington, Mercyhurst, and Humboldt State, with Nova Southeastern getting a chance to place in the eight’s Grand Final, but out of the points race.


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