Friday at the NCAA ends with a repechage session that hits a perfect trifecta: nasty, brutal and short. Just a few races long, with the prize being a chance to advance--and perhaps keep a championship hope glimmering--the racing goes up a notch, and the crews finding themselves at the wrong end of the pack mid-race can suddenly find themselves out of the picture altogether, literally. In DI, crews that miss the semis get Saturday off altogether and head directly to the third level final on Sunday. Talk about a tough thing to realize as you cross the finish line on the wrong side of the coin.
The Division III reps started the afternoon, and just two races later, D3 is already halfway through their two-day championship. This is, again the first year that D3 has run a separate 2V8 even, and as this race came down, it was pretty clear that this event is a worthy addition. In years past, these second eights were literally lost in the shuffle of the first eights racing around them; today, they had their own event, racing against matched crews, and put on a good race. The 2V rep was looking to select the last two crews for the four boat, second eight final, and Trinity led the field all the way down the course. William Smith, who certainly could have had designs on a run at the podium in the team trophy, made and early and bold bid for the second advancement spot, but faltered in the last third of the course, allowing Wellesley to come through and take the last spot in tomorrows final. William Smith wound up sprint with Marietta in a third place battle that Marietta won by just a bit--and which the two will reprise in Saturday's Petite final.
The first eight reps served up a great three-way chase for the two advancement spots: Marietta took the early lead, only to be pressed in the last quarter by both Trinity and Coast Guard. Past the crowd, Marietta's white bow was just barely staying out on the far side of the course, but Trinity kept coming, and Coast Guard, rowing between the two, was right there. After a finish that left the flag-person a bit winded (down-up-down…whoa), the crews had to wait almost five minutes for the result of a photo finish race; of the three, Trinity and Marietta took advancement honors, with only 0.19 seconds separating the three crews.
In Division I, the afternoon V8 rep was a classic example of why you don't want to be rowing on Friday afternoon at the NCAAs; Stanford made a run for the front in the middle 1000 and never gave it up, but behind them their was a true brawl for the next two spots; Cornell and Yale squeaked ahead of Michigan State and Brown in the following order: Stanford (6:47.31), Cornell, (6:50.28), Yale (6:51.20), Michigan St. (6:51.55), Brown (6:52.46); Wisconsin (6:54.30), Notre Dame (7:07.98)--a blanket finish, but no comfort for the crews coming up short.
It seems you don't want to be in the Second Eight reps, either; again with three to go, the top four were within 0.99 seconds, and Stanford denying Notre Dame a spot in the semis by 2/100ths of a second, oof. The winner was USC, who rode Lane 1 and an early push all the way to a tight win, even as the field did all they could to catch them. The tale at the finish: USC (7:00.09), Wisconsin (7:00.87), Stanford (7:01.06), Notre Dame (7:01.08), Cornell (7:04.42); Harvard (7:05.55), Michigan St. (7:16.24).
And in the last race of the day, the Fours rep, Michigan, Notre Dame, and Cornell separated from the field to go on through. The pace here was dictated by the Wolverines, who led a hard charge right from the start; after really giving it their all in the heat but falling short, taking the win wire-to-wire was doubly gutsy--and maybe more importantly, it puts Michigan right back in the team race. Cornell and Notre Dame proved to be the only crews game enough to get out away from the pack to give chase, and they will race in the semis as a reward.
With the four's row in the rep, Michigan becomes team number eight to have put crews through in all three events--fully half the field, then, has the theoretical chance to contend for the 2012 Championship: Virginia, California, Michigan, Ohio State, Princeton, Washington, UCLA, and Yale. The semis will cull that number of course, but the chance is there for those crews that have the Saturday speed you need to make the Grands at NCAAs.
An interesting note here is that Virginia posted the fastest times in the V8 and V4 today – frequently the team championship comes down to the performance of your fours, so they will be buoyed by this news -- but three heat wins by Ohio State, Michigan's powerful 1st and 2nd eight, and the Cal team that rarely misses the NCAA podium leaves pretty much everything still wide open as we head to day two.