In the end, it was a soggy but swift day at the EARC Sprints: for all the water dumping down of the spectators and crews, the water on the course stayed flat and fair. No small thing at Lake Quinsigamond and six lanes of fair racing was certainly appreciated, especially by the crews racing hard in the “un-favored” lanes. The only hint of wind blew in for the final race of the day: the Lightweight Men’s Varsity Eight was kissed with the slightest of tailwind, and suddenly the crews were finishing in order of how far their lane was from shore. It may have been a coincidence--the faster crews from the morning were on the lee shore, but definitely a reminder of why these crews race so hard for good seeds and good lanes all spring long.
The story of the day was clearly the dominance of Harvard, both heavy and light, but also the grace with which the Crimson crews handled both the pressure of being favored and the ferocious attacks out on the course. Every crew gave Harvard all they had in these finals and, as we saw last year, defending your seed and winning it all is no mean feat in this league. The Harvard heavyweights won their V8 title with a relentless rhythm that put them up by a slim, but unassailable two seats in the early going--a margin that they steadily worked to widen. The Lightweights made their win a bit more exciting for the fans: Yale led the final for good bit, and the Crimson pushed back from fourth, behind Princeton, to catch first Dartmouth and then Yale. That race was tight right to the end for the Harvard victory, with Dartmouth taking the silver by a nose over Yale just behind--eliciting some well-earned fist-pumping and boat-standing in the Harvard crew way over on the Shrewsbury shore.
Dartmouth’s silver in the lightweight eight capped a remarkable day for the Big Green and suggests there is more to come. As one knowledgeable race fan put it, “Dan Roock is back,” and that is certainly a factor: just two years in, Coach Roock is well on his way to creating his third contender in as many schools, a feat all the more remarkable when one considers that he is one of the only coaches to have had head coach success in the Sprints league with women (Princeton), heavyweights (Cornell) and now a lightweight squad in Hanover.
Also in the “we’re back” column here were the Princeton heavies, proving that their comeback silver last year was no fluke but throwing down the fastest heat time in the morning, and then coming back to mount the best challenge Harvard has seen since, well, the last time they raced Princeton. Greg Hughes’ Tigers are tough and aggressive racers and may well be the only crew in the east with the base speed to really match what Harvard generates in the middle thousand.
The day was as much RED as it was Crimson at the top of the podium, with Wisconsin very much in full force this year. For all of coach Chris Clark’s demurrals about how strong or ready his crew might or might not be this year, the ferocity and power of the Badgers belied that, as did their depth. Every Wisco eight left the line in the 48-49 range, and just hammered down the course, almost daring folks to try and get back in front. In the 3V8 and 2F8, the Badgers rode that start all the way to gold medals, and it put the 2V up for a good while over Harvard before the Crimson worked their way back on terms. The Badger JV held on for silver in that final, just ahead of a pack that locked in a four-way tie as last as 250 to go, before Syracuse’s JV jumped out to grab third. With that run of hardware, the bronze in the Varsity eight no doubt disappointed Wisconsin, who had taken the early lead in much the same way, only to see both Harvard and Princeton outlast them in the third 500. Nonetheless, Badger medals of any color at Sprints tend to put folks on notice: Wisconsin will be tough to beat in Camden.
All this completive racing takes it toll, and there were a few teams having a “rough” Sprints, but perhaps none more so than the Princeton lights and BU heavies. Both are just weeks removed from perfect seasons that were ended abruptly and by the narrowest of margins: Princeton’s loss in the Goldthwait Cup was its first defeat in a year, while BU’s 0.3 second edging by Wisco was the only blemish on a spring full of promise. Instead of redemption, the Tiger Lights and Terriers found things slipping the wrong way on Sunday. Princeton nearly managed a heat win and made a run at the medals, but never led the final or found the sort of groove that had staked them to so many open water wins over the past two years of title runs. BU fared even worse, slipping out the back of the Varsity 8 Grand Final and falling, in the end, to a Syracuse crew they had beaten handily on April 22nd. They will get the chance to regroup for the IRA of course, but definitely not the kind of Sprints either was looking for.
What else did we see? The Yale heavyweights are back in the mix, though not quite where Steve Gladstone might hope to be. The Yale 2V might have been the best of his lineups, making the Grand in a surprise over a well-regarded Navy crew, and the Yale varsity won a hotly contested Petite Final over Dartmouth, Navy and Cornell. Certainly better company than Yale was able to keep last year, even if the work there is still in progress. Brown proved that all the close finishes they have had this spring are not signs of any weakness or vulnerability from the Bears. Bruno was still very much relevant here, even if they did head home with no hardware, making Grands in all the varsity eights and challenging Wisconsin for that bronze in the big eight.
Say what you will about needing to qualify for the IRA and the “earning a bid” process, but it sure makes for some great racing in the Petites and even the third level final. Columbia’s lightweights salvaged their season in a single day’s work here, narrowly missing the final and then sprinting past a good Georgetown crew in the Light 8 Petite for the seventh, and final, IRA bid. It was an epic day for the Lions, who now get to keep working on their speed instead of going home. The Heavyweight bids may go deeper than ninth place, but only the top nine are guaranteed, making the fight Dartmouth and Navy put on in the Petite to edge out Cornell potentially crushing for the Big Red. Enough bids have gone unclaimed that Cornell should still get their traditional IRA bid, as could Georgetown, whose sophomores outlasted Columbia‘s for 11th overall, but their fate rests now with the selection committee--being a “bubble team’ has come to rowing, even if the NCAA has not.
The third level heavy final played into this, as well: with Penn’s win there over the struggling Northeastern varsity, the Huskies are almost certainly done, which is a shame for their wonderful frosh crew. Even as bronze medalists here, the Husky freshmen cannot go to the IRA without the team bid the varsity needed to earn. Just, perhaps, in a sport where it is the top eight that really matters, but tough for a well-deserving group of youngsters.
In the end, of course, familiar champions or not, the Sprints remains the best, tightest single day of crew racing perhaps anywhere in the world. How special is it? row2k ran into one father who drove 4 hours to see his son’s final as soon as he found out that the boy had a shot at a medal. “Your kid makes the Grands at Sprints,” the father said, “You get in the car and get to Worcester!” (The medal was won, by the way, thanks to the come-from-behind sprint that the boy and his crewmates in the Syracuse JV unleashed on Princeton).