It took a bit longer, thanks to a twice delayed Saturday program, but the D1 field is down to the NCAA's favorite number--Four--at least in terms of the number of teams still in the hunt to win it all.
Texas, Stanford, Washington and Princeton--those teams make up the Final Four here, having each put all three boats into tomorrow's Grand Final for all those NCAA marbles.
Texas did it with a 1V win, a 2V win, and came second to Washington in the V4; Stanford did them one better, with wins in all three of their semis; Washington collected 2nd places in the two eights to go with the V4 win; and Princeton was third in both eights, though only just, and second in the V4 in the Stanford semi.
Tomorrow's racing will determine whether those four teams will actually finish as the top four, and there are some determined crews whose teams might be out of the running but probably do not see their own boat that way: Brown and California in the 1V, Virginia and Yale in the 2V, Brown (again) and Ohio State in the V4.
And it has happened that teams have won with crews in the B Finals.
Still, for that Final Four, today was a huge step towards the top of the podium.
"We know how important it is to get all boats into the A finals, so that was job number one," said Texas Head Coach Dave O'Neill. "There's always little things each boat can improve upon from one race to the next, but tomorrow is pretty much about getting after it. There will be some great racing tomorrow among terrific crews."
Texas will be looking to defend their 2021 title and repeat tomorrow, while Stanford's as-yet-unbeaten crews here are looking to earn the Cardinal's second NCAA title; their first was in 2009. Washington's last title, in 2019, was their fourth and, of course, those three all wound up in a three-way-tie on points just a year ago--a tie broken, in favor of the Longhorns, by the Texas-Stanford-Washington finish in the 1st Varsity 8.
For Princeton, a team that has been at every NCAA championship these past 25 years, this will be only the fourth time that all three Princeton boats will race the Grand Finals, and the first since 2012--thanks in large part to the Tiger 2V racing its way into the top 6 despite being the 13 seed.
"The semis were fierce and the team continues to inspire," said Princeton Head Coach Lori Dauphiny. "We are excited to be in the grand final for all three events!"
Those fierce Semis took their toll on the 10 teams that came into the day with a shot to advance in all boats: after the 1V semis, that 10 was down to six. The battle between Cal and Brown eliminated Ohio State, while the brutal-on-paper second semi, the Stanford-Washington-Princeton pretty quickly dropped the three crews who would not advance, putting Yale, Michigan, and Virginia out of the group. Then the 2V semis dropped California and Brown out of the running, and the Fours Semi--run in a pretty determinative cross-wind that had prompted a mid-session re-seeding of the lanes--gave a real edge to the four remaining teams, each of whom had won their heat to earn those better lanes.
Brown V4: only D1 crew to overcome the crosswind (see Notes from the Course)
In the racing tomorrow, the top seeds in each event--and the ones in preferred lanes should that become necessary again--will the Texas and Stanford in both eights, and Washington and Stanford in the V4.
As noted above, ties do happen, so earning the highest possible placement of every boat is top of mind for student-athletes and coaches alike.
"Something that's great about this regatta and the way the champion is determined is that it takes the entire team," said O'Neill. "I love the fact that it's a team championship, and everyone on our team will certainly be pulling for each other."
Racing Down the Lists
In between each set of AB Semis were races no less important to the crews lining up in them: the C/D Semis. That opportunity to advance to a third level final, one that goes a long way to determining the overall team placings, was clearly worth racing hard for, especially with teams like Duke, Oregon State, Syracuse and Rutgers, who showed themselves--by running at the front of the C/D semis--that they are in the hunt to maximize the points left to earn with good races in the C Final tomorrow.
Apart for perhaps beating their seeds or improving on previous team finishes tomorrow, the teams in the C/D semis today were also still racing, and thus still reaping benefits from the accomplishment of earning a place here at the NCAAs.
"Sometimes when an athlete first makes it to NCAAs they are most excited about being here," pointed out Syracuse Head Coach Luke McGee. "But the second time around they have been to the circus, they have seen what goes on and they are more focused upon getting the best results out of themselves and their boats. We are excited to have the majority of our team who has raced at NCAAs before and we are looking forward to watching them go fast this weekend."
Racing tomorrow will start at 8:10 EDT, with D and C Finals for each boat class, starting with the Fours. The A and B Finals start at 9:22 EDT.
Notes From the Course
- One Delay, Two Delay: the morning started with a one-hour delay to let storm cells clear the area, then the course was cleared rights after the 1st of the 2 A/B Semis for the D1 2Vs. That time for lightning strikes in a cell that may have already passed the by-then glassy water, but obviously you cannot take chances with lightning, and it takes time to clear the course, get athletes to safe shelter, etc.
- Gator-Sighting: During the mid-morning delay (aka delay #2), a local of the reptilian variety took a lap on the course. No word if the gator will be assessed a false start for violating the traffic pattern (crossing the 1500m mark in Lane 1 going the wrong way), but he did get a pretty good view of the racing once it resumed (see below).
- Beautiful, but Breezy:Sarasota's windy side was back today: after the direct tail that was mostly just fast yesterday and stayed largely fair, the crosswind kicked today, eventually leading to a full on re-seeding of lanes by the time racing resumed after the break. By that point, it was a direct cross, so the crews were shifted into lanes 2-7, with the top seeds in Lanes 2 and 3. After the shift, when the wind was blowing the hardest, only one D1 Lane 4 crew beat a Lane 3 to advance: the Brown Four, who chased down Michigan to make the Grand Final.
- Drone Gets Rained Out: the video coverage, with the drone shot and the fixed cameras every 500m to show the margins at each split has worked really well, except when it started to rain during one of the most exciting races of the day-the Stanford-Princeton-Washington 1V Semi-and the drone was temporarily grounded. Luckily the spot-on calls from the commentary car were more weatherproof, and went a long way to describing what was actually happening in the long camera shots.