For all intents and purposes, the Brown heavyweights have picked up right where they left off in 2009; at the top of their game. The Brown V8, JV8 and 3V8 are all ranked first going into the Eastern Sprints, with the Varsity and JV going undefeated in their east-coast regular season (the Varsity finished a close second to Cal at the San Diego Crew Classic).
"We have had a lot of close races this spring and we expect it will be a tight field at Sprints," said Brown head coach Paul Cooke. "I've really enjoyed working with the squad here at Brown. We have a terrific group of people who really enjoy racing. They challenge each other each day and I expect they will continue to do so as we prepare for Sprints."
In the Varsity Eight, it's definitely not lonely at the top for Brown, as Harvard, Yale and Northeastern were all within striking distance of the Bruno, with Brown winning all of those races by 4 seats or less. Harvard in particular will look to push Brown hard, as the Crimson have had another quietly excellent season, their losses to Brown in the V and JV standing as the only Harvard losses all season at the Varsity, JV or frosh levels.
Also running back near the top of the pack after a year in the wilderness are the Yale heavies. In a year of close racing around the league, the Yale V8 has only lost to Brown leading up to Sprints and are a legitimate challenge. "There have been many close races among the top-seeded teams this season, so it's without a doubt a deeper field than in most years," said Yale head coach John Pescatore. "Our crews have raced well this season, but there's always room for improvement. We'll certainly be looking for continued improvement this week."
Always-enigmatic Wisconsin sits at #4 in the final poll, but history shows that Wisconsin can be a serious threat at the Sprints. "We don't race as much as our "Becupped" eastern brethren so we are always a bit of a mystery; not just for our competitors but for us, too," said Wisconsin's Chris Clark. "This is the closest field I've seen at the Varsity heavy level in a long time. Our team, like about 10 others, will consider ourselves very fortunate just to advance to the Grand Final, let alone win anything. I could also see a team that ends up 7-9th coming back and being a IRA Grand Finalist, something you don't see too often."
Rounding out the gaggle of potential finalists are Princeton, Syracuse and Northeastern. "The tight racing this year has created some heats where there doesn't appear to be an easy go down the course," said Syracuse head coach Dave Reischman. "In each of the 3 heats there is a possibility of an upset. It is good for our sport to go into Sprints and have nobody preordained!"
A glance at the Sprints schedule would seem to bear this out; in the V8, there isn't a "clean" race for anyone across all three heats, whew.
Brown and Harvard set the pace in the JV Eight this season as well, with Brown taking the direct competition between the two crews by just over 4 seats on April 10th. At the top of the JV field, the seedings read nearly identical to the V8, with Wisconsin, Princeton, Cornell all in the hunt, Syracuse at #6 and Yale and BU tied for 7th. Emblematic of the tight racing across the league this season was the photo-finish between Princeton and Cornell in the JV race on April 24th, with Princeton declared the winner after video review. These eight crews make up the likely finalists, but as in the V8, upsets are practically programmed into the schedule.
Perhaps the only blemish on Brown's status as the preeminent EARC heavyweight rowing program is that the Bruno frosh have run off-form this spring; Brown's frosh are ranked 12th headed into Sprints and don't look to have an impact on the finals or medals pictures at Sprints. Conversely, the Harvard frosh once again are setting the standard, entering Sprints undefeated, with no opponent coming closer than a length of the Crimson this season thus far. The battle behind Harvard in the frosh event is fierce however, with one of the deeper and more varied fields in the event in recent years. Cornell, Navy, BU and Princeton have all fielded strong frosh crews this spring, and those four are looking like the strongest challengers to Harvard going into Sunday's racing. Penn, Columbia and Syracuse could also challenge.
Other heavyweight events being contested at the Sprints are the 3V8, with Brown, Yale and Wisconsin leading a field of 11 boats. The 4V and 2F events are tiny this year, with four crews apiece: Brown, Harvard, Wisconsin and Navy will contest the 4V Grand in the morning, while Navy, Cornell, Wisconsin and George Washington will race the 2F final in the afternoon.