The 2010 EARWC Sprints Championship in Camden Sunday saw many familiar faces on the medal stands at the end of the racing, with the Yale Bulldogs and Wisconsin Badgers both repeating in the varsity eight events.
The final of the Lightweight Varsity Eight solidified Wisconsin's dominance of the lightweight events. Wisconsin had spent the spring winning race after race, and having that experience behind them only made them stronger. The test at the Sprints is a hard one, however, and Coach Erik Miller was still toying with line-ups as the May 16 event came into view. He knew that all the other teams, including Princeton and Radcliffe, were preparing to challenge the Midwestern lightweights who have become the team to beat.
Wisconsin led early in the race, but other crews still had contact with the Badgers. At about 1000 meters, Princeton was only about 4 seats back. "I was hoping they (Wisco) had another gear....we have been working on putting together a whole race going all the way down the race course, and I was hoping they would be able to maintain a similar speed to what they did the first half of the race course," says Coach Erik Miller. Just after the 1000, Wisconsin did find another gear, and pulled away from the field even more, ultimately winning the race by 5 seconds over Princeton, with Radcliffe 3 seconds behind the Tigers.
(Miller monitored their race during his own contest on the south shore of Cooper, stopping at intervals to gather information to take back to the launch next week. Worth noting that this guy on his streamlined red racing bike set a formidable pace in the coaching pack as well!)
"We are going to continue to work to put together the best combination of people going into the IRAs," says Miller, noting that he has been testing different athletes, including a freshman in 6-seat for this race. "We've got a lot of people who are really close (to a seat in the Varsity boat) so we'll have to see what happens over the next few weeks."
Miller coaches the 1V and the 2V for the Badgers, both crews won their event at this regatta. Dusty Mattison coaches the Novice crew and the four; Wisco won the novice eight, while Princeton, Radcliffe and Bucknell took the medals in the four. Together the Wisconsin team won the Konrad Ulbrich Award for the Lightweight team with the best performance; this is a deep team of talented women.
"What we've doing is getting the fastest combination of rowers," Miller summarizes, "We want to win here (Sprints) and we want to win at the IRAs, in the past we haven't made switches in between the Sprints and the IRAs, but this time I suspect we will."
The lightweight racing was earlier on the dance card, throughout the day there was a little concern about the wind and fairness of lanes. While the weather was overall very enjoyable, the wind was capricious, and folks in the launches spent the morning trying to figure out which way it was headed, and if the North shore provided any shelter in the lower number lanes during the event. The variable North wind sometimes seemed to play out as a cross-tail, sometimes a cross-head; the conclusion was that the wind was too variable in direction to create any clear advantage or disadvantage.
In the morning, the openweight side of the racing was playing out almost exactly as predicted and seeded, with Yale, Princeton and Brown all winning their heats in the 1V and 2V Eights races without having to fight too hard for the placement. They could go into the long lunch break (2.5 hours...there was some event contraction for the 2010 Sprints when the league eliminated novice events) with confidence and without lactate--always good way to spend the time between heats and finals.
The finals in both the 2V and the Varsity Sunday were all-Ivy League, with Brown, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, Cornell, and Radcliffe filling lanes for the 2V; Brown, Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth, Cornell and Penn populating the Varsity Grand Final.
Princeton, Yale and Brown were the constants in these two finals; their dominion on the Sprints scene was one of the most notable statements of the weekend. Lori Dauphiny (Princeton), Will Porter (Yale) and John Murphy (Brown) have all produced consistently strong crews over the past few years; in this iteration of the Sprints, the question was simply who was going to lead this trio of boats. In the end, in the three so-called NCAA events, each of the three squads came away with one gold, one silver, and one bronze.
The Second Varsity Eight Grand Final began with Brown having the most effective start, but only 20 strokes in, Princeton pulled ahead. (This strong Princeton start, as it turns out, is what rivals Yale were concerned about in the Varsity race--more on this later). At 500 meters, Princeton was a hair ahead with Yale and Radcliffe side-by-side. Brown was at a higher rate, but Princeton remained composed and pulled ahead by another 8 seats, Yale within a deck of Brown. The race remained in that order going through the body of piece, with Princeton's walk-on populated crew establishing themselves, and creating some concern for following years for their competitors. Four-seat Gabby Cole is a frosh walk-on who grabbed coaches attention during the winter and was also a quick study on technique in the spring. Princeton's 2V was not in any way a discernible novice boat.
As the race unfolded, the Varsity Eight Final turned out to be a dual match between Yale and Princeton with the surprising absence of Brown in the fray. Princeton has had an aggressive start through the season, and Yale Coach Will Porter has made a mental note of that proficiency when instructing his own team in preparation. "I think that Princeton crew is an amazing crew," Porter said. "If you race these crews ten times, it could easily turn out to be 5 and 5."
On the water, the match-up was so close that it was hard to visualize from trailing officials boats without the proper angle. Yale figured out the start in this match, and that may have been what gave them the "W." There were within a deck of Princeton in the first 30 strokes, and took the lead coming into the second 500; this lead was only relinquished (if at all) by a couple feet of deck throughout the race. At only 700 gone, it was Yale ahead by 2 seats over Princeton, with an unexpected span of open water over Brown. The separation from the field so early was what changed the tone of the race. It became a 2-boat race (Brown did arrive at the finish line in third, but it was just shy of 11 seconds behind the pair at the front, followed by Dartmouth in fourth a couple seconds back, Penn, and Cornell).
During the race, the boats appeared to approximate in their lanes, drawing their challengers into an intimate altercation. Princeton remained composed, but each stroke seemed to strengthen the Bulldogs--they had all the technique of the Tiger boat, but with perhaps a hair more horsepower within. As they came in site at the last 300 meters the shores were packed with every body present in Cooper River park squeezing for a view of the finish, Bulldogs finished eight tenths of a second ahead of the Tigers.
"I thought that Princeton was the crew to beat; having seen everyone and seeing how dynamic they (Princeton) are, and how talented they are, I just knew they were the ones to beat," said Yale Head Coach Will Porter. "I felt if we kept contact, we could do it....they are so good at the start, so good at the first 1000 meters, if we could stay with them...." he summarizes, but adds to clarify, "We really don't try to key too much off of other crews, but the way they were rowing this year, it forced us to pay attention."
Yale has won the Sprints under Porter's leadership in 2005, 2007, 2009 and now 2010. Once Porter got some traction in the Yale program, he and his athletes have become one of the most intimidating crews in the east and nationwide. At these Sprints, Yale also garnered the Charles Willing, Jr. trophy for the team with the best performance in the Varsity Eights, as well as the Sally Shoemaker Trophy for the Ivy team with the best finish in the Varsity Eights, as well as the Overall High Points Trophy.
"Last year was an unbelievable year for us, and we've come through a lot of adversity this season (he has four injured athletes right now), and just some freak things that are not rowing related, so I think that kind of adversity makes a team grow a little bit, and when we got here we were tougher as a group haven gotten through it." He adds, "I'm just lucky to get to work with this caliber of kid every year. I know that we don't find the kind of speed we found today without coaches like Lori (Dauphiny) and John (Murphy) in our league."
A lot of the speed has been with Taylor Ritzel, current stroke and senior, in the boat. With athleticism and a carefree attitude hiding a harden competitor, Ritzel is a senior leader that will be missed in the program next year. She was in the boat as a freshman when Yale won in 2007, then as stroke in 2009 and 2010.
Princeton's proximity during the brawl diverted the stroke's attention only a few beats. "When I play those games of looking outside the boat (cox'n had to remind Taylor a couple times "eyes in!"), it can be a distraction. This race I just tried to focus on what we were trying to do."
"I knew if we were hanging with Princeton we were going fast," says Ritzel.
"I think the key was just to stay internal and do what we do," says coxswain Mia Kanaka after the Final, "We had to trust ourselves and trust each other," she says. Many from this crew has been together for four years.
The top squads in the regatta will be strong candidates for an NCAA bid; look for the announcement of the NCAA crews Tuesday, May 18 at 5:00 pm.