After a couple of years of knocking on the door, spring (and Sprints) 2009 seems to finally be the time of destiny for the Princeton lights. With just one close result this spring, a sliver of open water over the Navy Lights back on April 4th, the Tigers have gone from strength to strength, punctuated by an emphatic, open-water win over Harvard and Yale on April 25th. A look at the CMax Rankings would seem to confirm this, as the CMax numbers have Princeton ahead by a ton.
But let's step back a moment; in two out of the past three years (2006 and 2008), Cornell has come charging from deep in the pack to take the title. This is an indication of the way lightweight racing has gone down at Sprints, with the #1 seeded crew in the Light Men's V8 winning NONE of the last three Eastern Sprints. Cornell, under new head coach Chris Kerber, may or may not figure in this picture...the Big Red are the defending Sprints and National champs, but are ranked sixth going in; Princeton defeated Cornell by a fairly distant 14 seconds early in the season, and that's a difficult margin to make up in any event.
Behind Princeton, it's Harvard, Navy, a surprising Georgetown squad, and Yale rounding out the top five, with the aforementioned Cornell crew at six. Harvard has beaten everyone save Princeton, with their toughest test outside of HYP coming against Navy, whom they beat by 3 seats. Navy, at #3, has lost to Harvard, Princeton and Yale, but was within a length of all three (excepting a touch of open water to Princeton), and could look to make the biggest jump at Finals time. Georgetown has not been as close to crews as has Navy, but stand up in the rankings by virtue of a win over Yale and solid racing in April.
Yale at #5 is enigmatic--a season-opening win over Navy has been followed by up and down racing against the remainder of the league, highlighted by a long 10 second margin to Princeton at HYP. Still, Yale has been known to come alive late in the season, and a key may be the Bulldog's top-ranked JV...if you need to go to your bench, it's good if your bench is already rocking.
The top six are fairly clear of the remaining four crews, Penn, Columbia, Dartmouth and MIT. Upsets are possible, but it would seem difficult for any of these four to match the speed at the front of the pack. The EARC lights, after a few years of running 12 crews deep is now back to 10 teams, with the absence of Rutgers and Delaware.
In the JV, Yale has not lost and, barring any lineup shuffles, goes into Sprints as the crew to beat. Based just on in-season results, this is one of the tightest events, with all of the top crews seemingly within 1-2 seconds of each other. Navy is ranked second, with Cornell, Harvard, Princeton and Georgetown rounding out the top six.
The 1F has some intrigue in the event, as there are no undefeated crews or clear top dogs around the league this year. The Cornell frosh, ranked #1 going into the regatta, lost to Harvard early in the year, but have since leapfrogged the Crimson (now ranked third) by virtue of their win over #2 Yale, who in their turn defeated Harvard. Harvard nominally finished second at HYP, but were relegated to third behind Princeton because of a steering violation on the course at Yale. This has been "corrected" in the final seedings for Sprints, but there's really very little in it between these four crews, and all four will challenge for the medals.
Georgetown, Columbia, Dartmouth and an uncharacteristically "off" Navy Plebe crew are the other aspirants for the final two spots in the Grand. Columbia/Dartmouth and Georgetown/Navy are the pairings in the heats for these "bubble" crews, and these ought to be great races...Columbia beat Dartmouth by just over a second at their dual just over 3 weeks ago, while Georgetown handled Navy early in the season and need to do so again to clinch a spot in the medal race.
Yale is the clear nod in the Lightweight 3V event, and the Bulldogs have had tremendously good depth across their program in recent years. Cornell is seeded tops in the 2F, and will hope to join their comrades in the 1F in the middle of the awards float.
The Dartmouth 3V, Yale 4V and MIT 2V will square off in the earliest race of the regatta on Sunday, the Grand Final of the Lightweight Four at 7:30am.