Two years ago the Princeton Chase dug out at dawn from the Halloween snowstorm to emerge into a beautiful race day; last year it snuck in just ahead of Hurricane Sandy. Today, in contrast, was a perfect fall day with little weather drama; the early morning chill moved out for a warm afternoon and the sun was high in the sky. Schools from as far as Cal and Texas and as near as Rutgers and Penn joined together in Princeton to storm one of the only exclusively collegiate fall regattas.
With only a week between the Charles and the Chase, one would expect similar results; things can change in a week, but most don't treat the Charles too lightly. However, it was clear early on in the day that all the teams have worked hard the past week to gain some more speed and demonstrate their capability.
The Yale lightweights were among the more obvious of this lot, with a strong win in the V8 on the Carnegie. "We didn't have the race we wanted at the Head of the Charles," said Head lightweight coach, Andy Card, "but today we had a good race so we're really excited."
Assistant coach Ned DelGuercio added, "There is some great leadership from the upperclassmen, which is something special; the older guys are leading the younger guys."
One of said older guys, captain Matthew O'Donoghue, weighed in on the race, expressing the same sentiments of his coaches.
"We had a good, complete piece," said O'Donoghue. "We got into our rhythm from the start. Our coxswain Ilana made a great call to stay internal and keep our heads in. We can't control anyone else's speed."
Not only was the crew able to redeem last year's second place, but they were able to give a pretty good birthday gift; it was coxswain Ilana Usiskin's birthday—how's that for a motivational factor?
Despite Harvard's disappointing finish in the varsity lightweight race, with their top boat losing a minute to buoy violations, the lightweight four race allowed the men to have another go at it, and a second shot to leave Princeton satisfied.
"We talked about refocusing right after the eights race," said Captain Alexander Bonorris. "It's a new race, you cant dwell on the past. The season is a build; the fall is not the end all, be all. We want to make improvements and strides every time we go out. We had the starting position and we wanted to hold off Yale and see what we could do."
Put together a new piece they did, as the crew finished 9 seconds ahead of Yale. It's a time of transition at Harvard, with a new coach and lots of younger guys on the team.
"We're starting off with a new coach, and what's more we graduated six guys from the varsity boat and 3 from the 2V," added Bonorris. "We're a young team. It's exciting—we have a ton of guys who have less experience, but are excited and motivated."
Repeating their strong win from last weekend, the Virginia women maintained their dominance with an 11 second win over Yale in second place, followed by Princeton in third, and then their own C boat in fourth.
"The race was just as competitive as last weekend—it's always a chance to correct any wrong turns from the Charles," said senior Fiona Schlesinger. "It was great to keep our position and see what was happening behind us, so we just pushed on. We have good depth and we're heading in the right direction."
The Princeton heavy men marked their territory in the first race of the morning as they held off Northeastern to retain their title as Chase champs. After last weekend's 13th place, today's race was a redeeming end to the season.
"It was a solid result," said senior Jason Kopelman, "We're in the mix and we have a lot more work to do, but it was a good test of speed for the fall. We changed some things up since the Charles and we're moving in the right direction."
Kopelman, like many others today, was very aware of the winter training that lay ahead, and the changes that can happen within teams between the last fall race and the opening sprint races in March. For most collegiate teams, it's the IRA, NCAA, or other spring championship that defines the overall success of the team. Fall results are neither throwaways nor gold standards; the races are taken seriously, yet are only the beginning of the team's year.
In the Men's Heavyweight Four, Cal started fourth and battled through wakes and under bridges to their victory.
"It was a little bumpy with crews in front of us, but all in all it was a strong race," said coxswain Julian Venonsky. "Directly in front of us was BU, and in front of them Navy. They were fighting it out from the beginning so we were stuck n their wake for three or four hundred meters until we finally got past Navy around the first turn. It was a fight with BU until the bridge—through the bridge we were coming into contact; then we walked through them, broke open and started chasing down Cornell. Once we got past the last turn and realized we were moving on BU at a pretty good rate, we just went off that momentum and finished the piece as strong as possible."
In the women's four, the last race of the day, came another win from behind, as the Cornell women who came in second last year, defeated Princeton for the win.
"The eight was a good race, but we took it stroke by stroke, then we got in the four and gave it everything we could," said Ellen Barrett. "We had a little bit of a rough start, but we got it back, and that change of not having an ideal start then making it feel good again was the inspiration we needed."
Towards the end of the day, the small boats swarmed the course—pairs, doubles, and singles. In the first wave of men's pairs, it was apparent while watching the finish line that some of these rowers were desperately missing their coxswains as they wove around each other and the buoys; the crowds on the stone bridge gasped audibly when a few near crashes were narrowly avoided.
The regatta had a feel of a fall football tailgate, with two-dozen or so tents scattered around the field adjacent to the boathouse. Parents hauling grills, chairs, coolers and Halloween candy set guard at these tents, ready to attend to their athletes every need. Since distance often separates collegiate athletes from their parents, this sort of fall celebration was a nice change of pace. The Princeton pep band (playing Sweet Caroline to support a certain northeastern baseball team, I believe), marched and sang from the field to the boathouse and back, to most everyone's amusement.
The winners traveled home with coffee mugs sporting the logo of the regatta—it may be unseasonably warm, but Princeton northwards is starting to have that morning and evening chill that calls for a warm cider or tea, or a massive drink of coffee. Perhaps the mug is a stark reminder that the fall season is beginning to wrap up for many. One nameless Dartmouth rower even dared to say that last week, "I saw ice."