The Mayor himself, Michael Nutter, bestows the hardware--how many regattas can claim that?
The Vail’s are back in force: just a year removed from the “will they leave/did they really leave/hey they’re back” saga that kept competitors wondering just where they’d be spending the second weekend in May, the Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta has re-emerged with a new sponsor, an expanded schedule, an aggressive and entertaining media blitz that will culminate with live worldwide ESPN3 coverage, and a renewed desire to be the biggest, greatest collegiate regatta of the spring.
With 526 entries, the Dad Vail dwarfs every other college championship, especially in this era of the shrinking and ever more selective post-season occasioned by the NCAA model. It also features a refreshing, and vanishing, all-comers feel: from small clubs fielding a single four or pair, up through the “super” clubs like Michigan and Purdue (9 eights and 4 fours will “Boiler Up”—with no doubling!), with a number of D-I Varsity programs and a few scholarshipped rowers in the mix. All told, the Dad Vail remains the most open of the collegiate championships. Heck, there’s even an Ivy League entry this year, from Penn, in the Men’s single—have to go back a ways to find an IRA Steward entered at the Vails, but it proves the point.
This inclusiveness has been a boon to the smaller niches of the sport: from lightweight women’s rowing in the past, though only four eights will race this year, to small boats, which will include singles this year for the first time. Another example? The Vail’s D-II event for women’s eights remains the biggest race at that level in the country. At NCAAs, a mere four selected schools will compete, but the Vail’s field features 10 programs from across the US, perhaps only one or two of which will make it all the way to NCAAs.
The Gold Cup
Also new this year, to go along with the new media presence of the Dad Vail, will be a special fixture: two fields of international scullers racing for the newly rediscovered and rededicated Philadelphia Challenge Gold Cup. Awarded biennially until 1966 to the reigning world champion in men’s single sculls, and last awarded to Olympic Champion Xeno Mueller in 1996 when it was rediscovered, the Gold Cup will now contested each year at the Dad Vail. The field this year features Itzok Cop, Kuka Spik, Ondrej Synek, and Ken Jurkowski of the USA on the men’s side, and Ekaterina Karsten, Mirka Knapkova, Iva Obradovic, and Frida Svenson on the women’s. In addition to putting on what is sure to be a some great racing, the scullers will also be giving clinics during the regatta to the collegiate competitors. Amongst them, these eight have been on 20 Olympic Teams and won more than 10 World Championships—so we can’t wait to hear what they think of racing Philly-style, and working the monster turn under the Strawberry Mansion Bridge into their race plan.
With so many entries, and so many programs that meet each other only this one time, the Dad-Vail might be the hardest regatta to predict—but that is exactly what makes racing, and winning, the Dad-Vail such a hoot, so let’s take a stab at who might find a spot in the finals, and maybe even a good lane.
Not much in it here, as they say: lots of contenders and only the racing (and perhaps the lane draw) will settle this one. Defending champion Brock returns, the first Canadian school ever to win the Dad Vail last year, when they outlasted a much lighter Delaware crew in the ferocious headwind. The Vails will not be Brock’s first trip south in 2011: Brock won the Varsity 8 time trial at the Lubber’s Cup before falling to Virginia and Grand Valley in windy final and then raced well against Sprints school competition at the GW Invite. In DC, Brock stayed within seven seconds of #8 Cornell and took down George Washington with a feisty sprint, so figure these Canadian Badgers game defenders.
Michigan skipped the Vails last year, but the Wolverines return as a heavy favorite, particularly after a wire-to-wire win at the National Collegiate Invitational last Sunday over Williams, Bucknell, Hobart, and Trinity. Michigan’s win in Worcester avenged last year’s loss to Williams and Big Blue is clearly on a roll. The Williams eight is coming to Philly for a rematch, though, and this is a tough bunch: they spent much of the second 500 in fifth place last weekend before storming through the field at the thousand. Quinsigamond’s lane one may have helped, but Williams’ final sprint in the closing was unaided, and nearly spoiled the Wolverine’s victory. Moving through that field for the bronze was Bucknell, who has put on some good late-season speed despite a flooded Susquehanna back home, and will look to make the Vails final as well.
Local fave, and 19 time Dad-Vail Champion, Temple is back in the hunt this year, coming off a win in the freshmen eight in 2010 and a bronze in the JV8. The Owls won the Knecht Cup, and narrowly missed winning the SIRAs’ automatic bid for the IRA by taking second to FIT. Temple’s wins have been tight, so their first win at Vails since 2004 will not be easy: they have traded pieces with Virginia and will come into Vails having just lost to Drexel at the Bergen Cup by half a length. That Drexel win, their first over Temple in 31 years, marks them as the home team on a roll: the Dragons took down LaSalle and St. Joe’s in the same race and the Drexel program is clearly finding its groove in its fourth year under Paul Savell.
Florida Tech won the SIRAs and will look to double down here. The freshmen in the FIT lineup will preclude them from racing at the IRA, so Vails will be the culmination of a fast season for this eight. They edged Virginia at the SIRAs as well as Temple, but the UVA crew, under second year head man Frank Biller, has run the table against ACRA foes and sits second in that poll. The small margins at SIRAs and a win over Temple at the Murphy Cup put UVA right in this tight group, as does the full-length victory the Hoos notched over Delaware’s much improved, and all heavyweight, eight in a home dual. Delaware will take the quick drive north from Newark looking to defend its 2010 silver, a result they earned on the strength of their top 7 lightweights, a group routinely ranked amongst the Ivies in national polls. This year, Coach Chuck Crawford has a full heavy squad, including a member of the USA U23 squad in senior Pat Kenny. The Hens best result this spring was silver, by a deck, behind Temple at the Knecht Cup, but they missed the finals at SIRA and will be looking to rectify that in Philly, their other home course.
The field in the women’s eight is not quite as deep, with some of the usual suspects skipping the Vails in favor of the new Conference-USA Championship and the hopes of eventually qualifying for NCAAs, but racing for the top spots once the final is set will be all sharp elbows, and hard to handicap.
St Joe’s will be looking to finish the job it started here on their home course last year: the Hawks led the 2010 final for 1700 meters, only to get caught by Sacramento State’s gutsy charge into the headwind at the end of that long race. St. Joe’s returns five members of the silver-medal eight, which went on to compete at Women’s Henley last year when Sac State declined the winner’s bid. In 2011, St Joe’s won its first A-10 title, took the Jesuit Invite and Kelly Cups, but the Vails gold is clearly on the agenda for Gerry Quinlan’s seniors.
Sacramento State, of course, comes back looking to defend its title, fresh off being just a length away from winning the WIRAs on their home course. The Hornets took third to San Diego and Gonzaga, but have raced well all spring, against a lot of D-I programs, including a win in their Cal Cup heat in San Diego over Georgetown, and come to town very prepared.
In an open field, this year could well be the return to form of the big club teams: Grand Valley State has reigned atop the ACRA poll all spring and won the Knecht Cup over Rutgers, with open water back to Old Dominion and Duke. Purdue had trouble at SIRAs against DI schools Alabama, Kansas State and Tulsa, but the Boilermakers are perennial finalists here and know a thing or two about making it happen on the Schuylkill.
Bucknell and Dayton took the varsity eights races in their respective conferences (Patriot and Atlantic 10) and will be very much in the mix. Bucknell’s 6th straight Patriot League title avenged an earlier loss to Navy and suggests that the Bison are back on form. Dayton’s win at the A-10s was a first for the program, and put them ahead of both St. Joe’s and UMass. It will be interesting to see if the Flyers can build on that notable result here and. A dark horse for the final here would be Old Dominion: in only its third year, ODU posted a big win against D-I’s Miami to open the year and they took second, over Buffalo, in the CAA finals, behind only the EAWRC’s Northeastern.
D-II Women’s Eight
This race is quickly becoming one of the best at this regatta: as the number of D-II programs continues to grow, the event at Vails has emerged as one of the few places where the widely-scattered teams in this division can meet each year. NCAA heavy Western Washington (they of the 6 consecutive NCAA titles), doesn’t make this trip, but nearly every other ranked D-II team will be on the Schuylkill this weekend in this 10 boat field, starting with #2 Seattle Pacific and #3 Nova Southeastern. East and West do not meet often, if ever, during the D-II regular season, but look for Mercyhurst and Nova to be too busy racing each other to be terribly welcoming. Nova ran the table to start the season down south, with big wins over Barry and FIT, but Mercyhurst took the win at SIRAs over the Sharks, so there is some unsettled business here--with major NCAA bid implications. Seattle Pacific earned a silver, and their #2 ranking, with a spectacular sprint at WIRAs through then #5 Humboldt State. Joining in the fun will be an entry from Grand Valley, Barry and FIT from the South, UMass Lowell’s new program, and the local DII school, Philadelphia University. Taking SPU’s WIRA finish against the NCAA champ WWU in account, the final here should feature a good test of how the D-II field is shaping up this year across the country.
The other 438 Entries
The rest of the Dad Vail events run the gamut from the impossible to predict (30 men’s pairs and 28 women’s pairs), to the sure to be competitive (48 novice fours for both women and men) to the prohibitive favorites—the races where the story would be the upset required to top Delaware in the Light men’s eight or Grand Valley in Novice women’s eight. A few races will feature storylines we’ve seen develop here on row2k this spring, like the BC frosh, a former COTW and NERC champs, trying to win the rubber match against the Bucknell crew that took the gold at ECACs. Then there will be the small but fierce field of four lightweight women’s eights: a straight final, yes, but with two IRA National Championship bids on the line, expect the lighties from Bucknell and Buffalo to throw down and make sure they are in front of Purdue and Georgia Tech.
Finally a nod to another great feature of the Dad-Vails “big tent” approach: the chance to see crews we don’t see that often in the lists. Let’s hear it for Wentworth Institute of Technology, from Boston, going after the light men’s four, and Liberty University (who right here is getting the thumbs up for most complicated blade design, too) coming to town with four crews: M8, N8, F4, W4. Great stuff.
Good luck to all—we may not have picked all the winners here, but here are three sure bets: the fingers of hundreds of coaches are about to be black with the draw’s newsprint, it will be a LONG walk to the Angels for the folks on that trailer that arrived last, and there will be lots of gold blazers. It’s Philly—it’s the Vails . . . don’t come down to the river if you don’t plan to BRING IT.