Given the year Princeton crews are having, it's almost impossible to come up with yet another catchy headline involving either "orange", "tigers" or any variation thereof. With or without press backup, however, Princeton, who have spent the past 3 years trying to reel Harvard in, look finally ready to break through.
In a way, they already have: Princeton's Compton Cup win over Harvard on the Charles on April 15th was an exceedingly rare accomplishment, something that Princeton has not done since 1957. Princeton certainly hasn't been waiting a half-century for a win over Harvard, but Harvard's recent domination of the league/nation must have been on the minds of the rowers of both squads.
Perhaps even more seismic than Princeton's win was Brown's season-opening bowball victory over the Crimson. Brown, ranked at #2 in the final poll before Sprints, have shown quality racing all year, with their only loss coming to Princeton. A few years of solid frosh crews seem to have finally taken on the Seekonk, and this crew seems poised to break into the medals.
No serious observer of Sprints would ever leave Harvard for dead. Even at #3, Harvard has served notice that the season is far from over, with a couple of wins that should give folks pause for thought. Where Brown beat #5 Northeastern by six seconds, Harvard nearly tripled that margin, putting 15 seconds on the Huskies a few weeks later. Word has it that there has been a fair bit of seatracing down at Newell, and the Harvard crew, three weeks removed from its most recent dual meet, returns to Worcester with enough of the guys that won Sprints last year to figure to be a real factor.
Wisconsin, Northeastern and a surprising Syracuse team make up the rest of the top six in the final poll. Wisconsin has been solid, if somewhat of an unknown quantity, with no losses against its few EARC opponents this year. Northeastern has fallen to Brown and Harvard, and will look to repeat or improve upon its bronze medal performance from 2005.
Syracuse, without having raced any of the top-tier crews this season, also comes into Sprints undefeated. Outside of a one-length win over BU, Syracuse has been hammering crews all year, with huge wins over Rutgers and Dartmouth to their credit in their first and last races, respectively, and a solid double-digit win over Navy and Cornell in the middle of the season. Syracuse should have the speed to make the final, although a medal may yet be out of reach for the (other) Orange.
Behind these crews, Yale, BU, Navy and Penn could steal a spot in the final. BU, ranked eighth, was the surprise crew at last years' Sprints, coming in ranked ninth to row to an eventual 4th place finish, and it remains to be seen whether the Terriers can work that sort of magic again this year. Penn, racing in Stan Bergman's final year as head coach, ought to have an extra dose of emotion when they pull up to the line.
In the JV, the case is much more clear-cut. Harvard's JV have run the table and enter into Sprints as the favorites ahead of Northeastern and Brown, who came closest to the Crimson. These three crews will probably figure to settle the medals amongst themselves, although Princeton, who came creditably close to Brown mid-year, and Wisconsin might get into the mix. Yale, who lost to Princeton's JV by a bowball, is also on the premises.
After the Varsity, the lions share of the heavyweight intrigue at Sprints this year is in the frosh eight, where Brown, Princeton, Harvard and Penn having been playing "gotcha" throughout the season. After Harvard beat Brown early in the season, with Penn beating Princeton, Princeton then upended Harvard at the Compton Cup, Harvard went on to demolish Penn, and Brown put 5 seconds on Princeton to arrive at the current rankings of Harvard, Brown, Penn and Princeton, in that order. With four players fighting for three medals, and all crews having lost at least once, this figures to be one of the best races of the championships. Northeastern, at #5, has been close to both Harvard and Penn and could make things interesting, with Cornell, Wisco and Yale filling out the ranks of crews who are eyeing the final.
Unlike the lightweight events, where Navy was ranked #1 across the board, the race for the Rowe Cup (heavyweight points trophy) looks to be an open race at this point, with Harvard, Brown, Princeton and Northeastern with enough quality across the board to challenge.
As crews gear up for the racing, one thing will be different at Quinsigamond this year: missing will be the commentary of longtime announcer Bernie Horton, voice of the Sprints for over 30 years. Bernie, who passed away on May 8th, was good for a joke (or three), a good story, and will be missed by anybody who has spent more than a few moments at the Eastern Sprints. A moment of silence in Bernie's honor is planned before the start of racing on May 21st.