This year's edition of the Sprints had all of the tight racing, close margins and sheer boat speed that we have all come to expect, but there was one thing lacking that we have gotten a bit accustomed to: a sweep. No one team dominated this year's racing, and a few of the teams that made the podium in one event missed the final altogether someplace else. Just four teams on the heavy side even made all the Grands--Harvard, Brown, Princeton, and Navy--but strong showings from teams that did not, like Wisconsin's gold medal run in the 2V and Northeastern's silver in the 1F, kept any one team from pulling off the kind of sweep that has almost seemed to become an expectation in the run up to Worcester in recent years.
Things were no different on the Lightweight side of the card: there was no sweep in the offing, with Harvard and Dartmouth headed for a showdown in the V8, but out of the picture in the 1F and 2V (literally in Harvard's case: seeded eighth, the HVL 2V missed the Grand altogether). Yale's frosh and Jays powered the Elis to the points lead for the Jope Cup, but the Yale varsity was still a bit off the pace of both Harvard and Princeton--their 3rd place HYP result of two weeks ago standing up to some Sprints day scrutiny here--and with Dartmouth very much in the hunt for gold, fourth was the best the Yale 150s could manage for this round.
No doubt the parity and depth of the league played a role in keeping the gold medals shared around, but on a day when the flags at Regatta Point said crosswind, at least in the occasional puff of wind, the lanes stayed remarkably fair--and the crosswind was more of a breeze than a factor. The proof? Medal winners from nearly every lane across the lake, including a bronze by Columbia's L2V from Lane 6.
The dearth of sprints-sweeping depth did not mean that the day was free of dominant performances--not by any stretch. The Yale Light Frosh and Brown 3V Heavies put on clinics in their respective Grand Finals, weathering the fury of the rest of the field off the line, and then simply powering way to lead, and win, by open water. The Wisconsin 2V Heavies nearly pulled off the same trick against highly regarded Harvard, but the Crimson dragged themselves back to within inches, providing the beach with a thrilling sprint to the line. The Badgers kept that one, though, unleashing a relentless sprint to leave only silver for Harvard.
The real jaw-dropper of the day was the dogfight between Harvard and Brown in the Varsity Hwt Grand: lots of folks had heard, of course, of the very close race between these two on the tail-windy Seekonk back in April--which went to Harvard by just .6 seconds--but the whole crowd got to see precisely just how evenly matched these two crews really are on Sunday. Everyone got a good view, too, because Brown and Harvard pushed each other, and the pace at the front, so hard that Wisconsin was left racing for bronze a full ten seconds behind the battle for gold. At an event where all six finalists can finish within 5-6 seconds of one another, the gap in this Grand was striking, and a credit to just what Brown and Harvard are capable of when well and truly pushed.
The race this time around went to Bruno, and there were none of the wonky conditions at play in this one that start pollsters wondering. The tight margin--at .3 seconds, exactly half as close as their first meeting--suggests of course that there will another chapter or two to be settled at the IRA in this one, but what was maybe even more notable than the .3 second win was the poise Brown showed all the way down the course. Harvard's talented crew threw everything at them, but Bruno kept digging in and refusing to let the Crimson go by. With each move, and counter, the two pushed the whole field further behind--and for those on the beach, there was some truly even and exceptional boat speed to appreciate as everyone held a collective "will-they-or-won't-they" breath.
In the end, Harvard's only wins on the day came in the 1F and the 4V, but wins there and the two incredibly tight silvers in the 1V and 2V suggest that while the Crimson may have been matched on the day in a race or two, they are far from done as the juggernaut of the east. Harvard's silvers--and the Frosh win--earned them the Rowe Cup, and there was plenty of Crimson on the medal dock all day, even though Sunday was definitely not the sort of "Harvard again" day that came with their sweep here last year.
The other story lines on the heavy side should come as no surprise: Wisconsin is deep, descending from the upper midwest with plenty of boat speed, winning that 2V gold and the 2nd Frosh race, and sticking in front of Harvard one more time to grab second in the 3V final that Brown took. Brown brought not just the fastest crew but also one of the biggest squads, matching Harvard and Navy with fully six eights, and they figured in every final; even when Bruno was just out of the medals, in the 2V and 1F, it was clear that they were one of the most dangerous squads in the field. Speaking of big squads, all three of programs that fielded six eights each made every Grand Final, a testament to that old-school way of building boat-speed: depth. Princeton was a nice surprise in the racing here: back to what many thought would be the Tiger's form at the start of the season, Princeton put every one of their crews into the Grands as well, and the run-up to the IRA could add even more speed.
The Light Men's Grand may have unfolded as the seeding predicted, but the Harvard lights defended their perfect season and seed with aplomb, disappointing Dartmouth for a second straight year--which takes nothing away from the run the Big Green has been putting together with Dan Roock at the helm. For a light men's final, the half length Harvard had in hand looked pretty comfortable, and Dartmouth found itself fighting to keep that silver over a Princeton light varsity that--like their heavy counterparts--is finding their speed at the right time. That push toward the medals by the Tigers kept Yale off the podium and the Bulldogs seem to have wound up just a touch off the pace as the speed in the league rounded into form, despite running the table in the league to start the year. Last season, Coach Andy Card took a look at a similar Sprints result, decided with his guys that they simply needed to be faster, and then took the IRA title just three weeks later. Few here would doubt Yale's potential to pull that off again: Yale is not done, even though they were out on Sunday.
Need further proof? It was the Elis doing their "huzzah's" at regatta's end as they hoisted the Jope Cup and rightly celebrated the "lightweight supremacy" the points trophy recognizes. The Yale frosh capped a perfect year with an open water win and the Yale JV flat out outlasted a determined Cornell crew to grind out a second gold medal for the Elis. With that kind of depth and talent to work from, Yale is as much in the thick of the league's speed as anyone.
That Cornell 2V silver, combined with the 9 second thumping the Big Red Lights put on the 3V8 field, marks the boys from Ithaca as the second deepest squad here. With those lower boat medals, coming on a day when crews from other teams like Harvard (2V), Columbia (1V), and Navy (1V) were missing Grand Finals altogether, Cornell's full slate of finals and the handful of hardware were a nice haul.
Once upon a time, the Sprints was about, well, the Sprints: winning here was great high point of the season and maybe a chance to earn a trip to Henley along with an armful of shirts. These days, though, the Sprints--like so many college championships--is also "just" the prelude to the IRA's National Championship and, as the one event where many of the Sprints schools can lock up an IRA bid, racing in the V8s, heavy and light, was fraught with IRA implications all day long.
Just nine schools from the EARC are guaranteed spots in Camden on the heavy side, while the lightweights had to race to seventh or better to book an IRA spot. That cruel math puts a lot more on the line during the Petite finals that the B Final's "race for pride" used to have--and the prize awaiting the better performers in the Petite never fails to create inspired racing nowadays. With the revised qualification rules threatening to leave fewer At-Large bids available this year, none of these crews wanted to leave things to chance.
BU, who nearly chased their way into the Grand, took the Heavy petite, with Yale in lane 1 and Northeastern in Lane 1 bracketing the field to snatch the last two bids on offer. That left, incredibly, 5th seeded Cornell in 10th overall and, perhaps even more surprisingly, the Big Red was just a foot or so ahead of Penn. The Quakers looked solid all day, both here, where they led Cornell for a good while, and in the heat, as they made their way to the Petite, a step up from last year for them, when a win in the Third Final just barely earned them an IRA spot. Dartmouth took sixth--and the order here is important: Cornell, Penn, and Dartmouth will be the order for any awarding of At-Large bids, and the Big Green will have to hope at least three are on offer to make it to Camden.
How rough is this racing for those spots? Just half a second separated the Big Red from Northeastern and that final guaranteed spot--and the chase for ninth kept four crews essentially level right into the last 250 meters. Northeastern, who missed the IRA altogether last year, had three sprinting crews to fend off in that last thirty strokes, so hats off to the Huskies for weathering that charge--and to Yale and BU for finding a way to stay out ahead of it.
NU also had two members of their Varsity 8+ head to the hospital with illness after the morning heats, and contested the petite with a brand new lineup, which makes their qualification for the IRA that much more impressive. How hungry are the Huskies? Consider this tweet, moments after the crew crossed the line: "See you all at the IRA."
The formula for the lightweights is simpler: win the Petite and you go to the IRA; anything less, and the season is done. There are no At-Large bids for the lights, so it is simply, and brutally, a "win-and-you're in" proposition. Columbia, who used a seventh at Sprints to give their season new life last year--and went on to make the Grand by the time IRAs rolled around--grabbed that lifeline again this year, outlasting the Navy lights to take the win, and the bid. The Navy lights, who looked in the morning like they had a chance to leap over Yale into the Grand itself, fought hard down the course, but the last quarter belonged to the Lions.
For the record then, here are the EARC qualifiers for the IRA, in finish order:
HWT: Brown, Harvard, Wisconsin, Princeton, Navy, Syracuse, BU, Yale, Northeastern, George Washington*
LWT: Harvard, Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale, Cornell, Georgetown, Columbia
"Bubble" Teams awaiting HWT At-Large Bids, in finish order:
Cornell, Penn, Dartmouth, Columbia, Georgetown
*GW qualified for the IRA by winning SIRAs, another automatic qualifying regatta
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05/14/2012 10:09:53 AM