The 2012 NCAA Championship got underway this morning as a thick fog in the air belied the intensity and lucidity with which several of the crews raced.
In D1 racing, the most remarkable result was unquestionably Ohio State's wins in all three events, in almost all cases going away--and in the 1V by rowing down Cal and Princeton. It is also worth noting that UCLA advanced all three of their crews, after a long absence from the NCAA Championships.
In D2 racing, the stunner has to be seven-time national champion Western Washington, who was shut out of direct advancement in both the eight and the four. The sweeping this morning in those events was done instead by Humboldt State and Nova Southeastern, who won both their eights and fours heats.
And in D3, the heavily favored Williams squad showed absolutely no weaknesses, and unless someone has something special to show later this weekend, made it very clear they intend to repeat still again as champions.
Heats got underway in Division I with the mist still on the course, and while top seeds Virginia and Michigan made good with wins in the first two heats, the third heat--where OSU dropped the hammer and passed both Cal and Princeton--signaled that the chase for the championship might be a bit cloudy as well. With the Buckeyes' V8 win, there is clearly another team in the hunt here. USC's well-regarded V8 took second to Michigan, one of the crews they had not yet seen this year, but USC had to get past UCLA first, who also advanced. Virginia's win came over Washington, who was able to hang with the Cavaliers for much of the first thousand, but Virginia was able to patiently push away nonetheless. Harvard-Radcliffe took third in that heat, outlasting both Yale and Brown.
The final three spots in the semis will be set by the seven boat rep this afternoon, but the spread of the racing this morning suggested that the eventual winner of the varsity eight is already through, though clearly more than one crew has the speed to make getting all the way to the top of the Grand Final, and the racing will be interesting.
The seven crews facing the rep in the V8 will be Brown, Yale, Michigan State, Cornell, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, and Stanford. Just three advance to round out the semis, and the Stanford crew--whose steering froze up just before the thousand meter mark in their heat, will be perhaps the most eager to look for a better go in the afternoon. (The Cardinal coxswain raised her hand after the finish to protest--this after gamely completing the course using a few adjacent lanes--but since the mishap happened well past the breakage zone, and they had the recourse of racing in the repechage, the heat was declared official.)
The 2V8 and Fours racing is, of course, all about getting qualified in al three events. It is possible, just, to win a team title without three Grand Finalists, but qualifying across the board is the name of the game coming into the regatta.
From the morning, six teams are through to the semi with all three crews--Virginia, California, Ohio State, Princeton, Washington, and UCLA--and the reps could add one or two more. In the 2V8, Michigan's JV cruised to a win in its heat and Yale broke through to claim a place in the semis, as did Brown's JV, making a bid to get Bruno back in the team race--just a few seats behind the UCLA 2V that has been pacing the Bruins all year. In the fours, Harvard-Radcliffe and Yale advanced, giving the two Ivies just one rep a piece to plan for in the afternoon (1V for Yale, 2V for Harvard-Radcliffe), while the Wisconsin four took third in heat three to give the Badgers one semi berth to end the morning.
The one insight to the team race here: Michigan's miss in the Four could seem to put Michigan, just for the moment perhaps, a bit back in the team title chase despite the speed of their eights, unless you consider the epic three-way race for second and third that the Wolverine four found themselves in with Washington and UCLA. In probably the best DI boat race of the morning, those three crews went seat for seat into the third 500, open water behind Virginia. The Huskies and Bruins eventually broke away from Michigan, who limped home in fifth by the end, but this third Michigan boat showed they could run with the group--so look to see them come through the reps to get back in the mix.
As noted above, both Humboldt State and Nova Southeastern won both their eights and fours heats. Western Washington has won seven titles running, but this morning at least a couple teams made a strong impression on the Vikings; Nova Southeastern won their heat over WWU by a length in the eights--and left one Sharks' fan literally in tears on the shoreline. In the Four, Humboldt State took the Vikings by open water, leading right from the gun. Western Washington now heads to the reps, where Mercyhurst is no doubt waiting for a crack at the defending champions. Only one more spot remains in the four's final, and two in the eights final, so tomorrow's D2 rep figures to be a high stakes day if there is t be a WWU nine-peat.
Williams all but dominated the racing here, fully eight seconds faster than any other crews in the first eight, and nine seconds faster than anyone else in the second eight. Behind Williams, things get more interesting, with Bates, Wellesley, and William Smith nabbing the other three advancement spots in the first eights, and Marietta taking the other spot in the second eight, spreading things around quite a bit among the field.
Also interesting in the D3 racing, the debut of the new separate 1V and 2V event format. After nine years of combining the top two boats from each team and the At Large eights into a single twelve-boat field, D3 has opted to split the events starting this year. Should create some more exciting races across the board, but it does mean that William's habit of putting two crews in the D3 final--and sometimes, both into the medals--has come to an end.