The big question going into the 2009 EARC Sprints (well, OK, the biggest question among many) is whether Wisconsin can repeat as EARC Sprints Champs in the Varsity Eight. Princeton has repeated, Harvard ran off a streak of 4 years at the top earlier this decade, but Wisconsin has never won the title back to back. As they did in 2008, Wisconsin enters this championship weekend undefeated, with huge wins over Washington and Stanford to their credit, and is a deserving #1 seed. Wisconsin coach Chris Clark has had the luxury of returning 6 members of his national championship crew from 2008, but he would also be the first to tell you that there's no such thing as a gimme at this level.
Harvard, also undefeated in the EARC (the Crimson finished third at San Diego, behind Cal and Washington) and seemingly "back to normal" after a subpar season in 2008 that saw them miss the Grand at Sprints for the first time in half a century will be champing at the bit to knock the Badgers out of the top spot. The field is pretty tight at the top, with Harvard defeating three-seed Brown by only one second early in the season. A glance at relative margins among common opponents would seem to give the edge to the Crimson; while Harvard and Brown both defeated Princeton by nearly identical nine second margins, Brown only bested Northeastern by two seconds, compared to an 11-second drubbing Harvard laid on NU eight days before the Sprints.
Lying in wait and in the hunt for a medal is a solid Cornell crew that has not yet lost this season. Will Cornell, under new (and former CU lightweight) head coach Todd Kennett, have the goods to pick off one of the top three crews for a medal? An early indicator might be how Cornell fares in the heat of 3-4 seeds against Brown, whom they have not faced this season.
The heats at Quinsig this year have some of the best intrigue in recent memory. Joining the aforemention Brown and Cornell in the 3-4 heat are Yale and MIT at 9/10 respectively. Yale has been solid, while MIT has raced their most outstanding campaign in recent memory, coming as close as 3 seconds to Wisconsin on the penultimate weekend before Sprints (it was their second race against Wisco on the day), and have a win over Princeton to their credit. A spot in the Grand is probably a reach, but it has been a good stretch since MIT even raced in the Petite.
The most intriguing heat is the 2-5-8 draw with Harvard, NU and Columbia. Columbia was raging earlier in the year, with wins over Yale and Princeton to their credit, but faltered badly in a loss to Syracuse and BU, which probably knocked the Lions out of contention for a 3 or 4 seed and arguably a "safer" heat. As it stands, the Lions are racing Harvard and Northeastern, two crews they haven't raced to this point, and are probably kicking themselves over a missed opportunity. As far as morning racing goes, this is not a comfortable heat (if there is such a thing at Sprints, whew).
That said, the 1-6-7 heat with Wisconsin and surprising crews from Syracuse and BU is likely to be just as hot. Syracuse and BU were separated by less than a length in their dual, with both of them well clear of a highly-ranked Columbia crew, and they will reprise this battle with a spot in the Grand at stake. BU, under new head coach Tom Bohrer, has shown tremendous improvement this season and could easily provide Syracuse with all it can handle in the morning.
Probably the biggest wrinkle at the EARC Sprints this year, with implications deep into the Petite Final, is that the IRA regatta is now functioning as an invitational, to wit: the top nine finishers from EARC Sprints will receive automatic bids to the IRA Championship, which will likely make the Petite a screamer, with three spots at stake. The bigger deal for team bids is that that "selection to the 2nd Varsity and Freshman Eight Events is predicated on first being selected to the Heavyweight Varsity Eight Event."
In the second Varsity, Brown is a near-unanimous top seed, having gone undefeated on the year. Wisconsin is seeded second, with their only loss coming to Washington out west, and Cornell, Harvard and Princeton round out the top five. Cornell is an interesting 3-seed, having lost to Syracuse, but owning a win over Princeton, who defeated Harvard at the Compton Cup. These three crews are almost too close to call at this point, and the fight for the medals really doesn't favor one crew or another going in. Behind these five crews, BU, Northeastern, Yale and Syracuse will content for spots in the Grand Final.
The Harvard Frosh are the beasts, rolling through their season undefeated, with only Brown coming within a length of them. It's always fairly rare to see a perfectly round number in an EARC poll, but the Crimson are unanimous at number 1. Brown is chasing them hard, and you could argue that the field drops off considerably after those crews, with Yale, ranked 3rd going into Sprints, a big pile of open water back of Brown very early in the season. Still, the Eli seem to have gained as much speed as any crew going into the championships, and will be looking towards the front of the field. Cornell, a surprising Syracuse squad and Princeton round out the six potential finalists, while Dartmouth, Wisco and Navy will look to make an impression.
In the lower boats, the fields have thinned somewhat, with only nine crews entered in the 3V and 2F events, respectively. Harvard, who has field huge teams in recent years, sees a fairly dominant 3V seeded at #1 in that event, while Brown snags the top nod in the 2F by virtue of an early-season one-length victory over #2 seed Harvard.
As early as it gets: the first heavyweight medal final of the 2009 EARC Sprints goes off at 7:40am with the Grand Final of the Heavyweight Fours. Brown, Penn, Northeastern, MIT and Holy Cross will square off at just after oh-dark-100 in the earliest Sprints Grand Final that I can remember.