Semis at any regatta are about making the Grand; at NCAAs, the always-fiery crucible of the D1 semis is also about staying alive in the points race, too. The NCAA Championship goes to the team with the best three finishes, and the teams who can earn a Grand FInal spot with all three of their crews can head into Sunday on track for a title.
Eight teams entered the day with a shot to do so, but when the dust settled on the cool and cloudy morning at Mercer, just three remained: Virginia, Cal, and Princeton. The fate of the other contenders broke down as follows--and don't count them out altogether…Brown, after all, took the 2011 title in part on the strength of a Petite Final win by its four.
First Varsity Eight Semis
In the first semi, it was all Virginia: patient again, the Cavaliers looked comfortable, pushing away from a furious battle between USC, Cal, and Harvard. Stanford made a charge in the same lane 6 water they rode to victory in Friday afternoon's rep but did not have enough boat speed here to make a push into the top three.
Michigan and Princeton went out hard in this the second semi, with the Wolverines having the measure of Princeton pretty much the whole way. Washington made its bid midway and locked up the third spot, the Huskies able to handle even a good late sprint by UCLA; the victim of the pace in this one was Ohio State. Just a day after winning their heat with an impressive mid-race move, there was no walking through the field in this one for the Buckeyes--and with the V8 headed to the Petite, the Buckeyes have likely, and precipitously, dropped out of the team title hunt.
Second Varsity Eight Semis
UVA's 2v knew their team was counting on them, and they took all the lead they could off the line in the first semi and then, in truly desperate fashion, held on for dear life as first Cal and then Princeton came through. Chasing them hardest at the end was Brown, looking to get Bruno at least one Grand Final pelt, but the Cavaliers had grabbed just enough, literally, and the result may go a long way toward determining the 2012 team champion tomorrow
Michigan powered away to set the tone in the second semi, matched only by Ohio State, who was able to get it done with their 2V just thirty minutes after their 1V missed the Grand. UCLA's scrappy 2V came third, keeping Yale at bay to take their great season all the way to its final stop: the NCAA Grand Final.
Cal set the bar in this one, daring the field to join them in the Grand, and just Yale and Washington had answer enough to get out ahead and make it to Sunday. Harvard was right in it much of the way, which put Michigan in quite the spot of bother and, ultimately, out of the Grand Final. The Michigan four will have to rally to score points in the Petite to keep the Wolverines in chase for the team trophy.
In the second semi, Ohio State won emphatically--and the scramble is now on in the press tent to calculate the Buckeyes' chances at the title with a clear shot now to win both the 2V8 and V4 events even though their Varsity 8 can do no better than 7th, in the Petite. Well astern of the Buckeyes, Virginia and Princeton held off UCLA to give their squads the coveted "three-through" prize: along with Cal, Virginia and Princeton are the teams qualified with all three boats, and in the best position heading into Sunday's finals.
Another stat for your consideration: there might be three teams in that "team points" catbird seat, but there are in fact eight teams still in the hunt for medals in one event or another. These eight have at least one crew in a grand final, and the points they score could tip the balance for sure: California, Michigan, Ohio State, Princeton, UCLA, USC, Virginia, Washington and Yale.
DII Eight and Four Reps
The Eights repechage saw a devilish boatrace for the two spots left in Sunday final. Mercyhurst got out ahead, but Wester Washington chased the Lakers lead down to just .3 at the line, with Central Oklahoma just a canvas back in the final sprint.
Western Washington's title hopes got another shot in the arm as the Viking's Four grabbed a one length win over Mercyhurst to lock up a spot for both their crews in the Grand Final