After a few weeks of twisty and packed racecourses, many of the crews that race in the Princeton Chase do so because of the simplicity of the event – the racecourse is essentially two straightaways with only one turn, the competition is colleges only and almost all teams who will race each other in the spring, and the start order tends to put crews of similar speeds together, so there are fewer unexpected incidents on the course that otherwise add uncertainty to the results.
That said, it's still only fall racing, and the crews who won on Sunday know it all too well.
"I think one thing teams have learned throughout the last few years is that if you do well in the fall, you're in in the mix for speed, but the spring's a totally different ballgame," said Patrick Konttinen, who rowed in the seven-seat of the winning Princeton heavy men's eight. "Last year the crew that won the head of Charles last year did not win in the spring, and we beat Yale last year at the Chase and the Charles and we lost to them at Sprints."
Princeton men's eight
This year things evened out a bit, with Yale winning the Charles outright, and Princeton taking the Chase. The two crews try to keep it fun to boot – though not without a competitive edge.
"Yale's fast, and I think that's just a competition that's gone throughout the fall and will go into the spring," he said "They're good guys and we're friends off the water, and once we got to the starting line today there was definitely some chirping going on; some light-hearted chirping."
In the women's Varsity Eight, Virginia came out barely on top of an intense battle with Brown, taking the win by a mere 0.569 seconds. Having won last year, Brown started in the first position, with UVa in second, and their literal chase separated the two from the rest of the field by over 12 seconds.
Virginia women's eight
"We had in a first-year coxswain, Izzi Weiss, and the whole race she was telling us what was going on up front," Virginia stroke seat Georgia Ratcliffe said. "She told us 'I can't tell if we're gaining or not, so I'm asking for more!' We could see that the boats behind us were coming at us, so it was a constant ' Can we put out more? I don't know but we're gonna find out.' She kept asking for it and we just kept on putting what we could out there."
Ratcliffe is also aware that a win here is just a small blip on the radar of college rowing nationally.
"It's fun to come to the head races on the East Coast in the fall to have a chance to race and to see what's the best on the East Coast, but you know that there's an entire other coast out there," she said. "Everyone that's here knows that there's an entire other rowing scene."
Virginia has one more race this fall, their home head race the Rivanna Romp. Much as the Princeton Tiger was prowling the grounds of the Chase, the Cavalier will be exploring the grounds of the Romp.
"It's really nice to have the Romp at the tail-end of the fall, because it's a nice way to just close it off at home and get everyone to come out to a relatively chill event," she said. "We have our mascot and everyone gets excited to just race each other. The coaches approach it in a way that it gives us another little marker, and each marker just gets a little bit closer to the spring."
Racliffe light women's eight
With only seven eights participating, the light women row in the women's Varsity Eight event; Radcliffe repeated their Charles performance as the top collegiate crew by placing first among the lights and 18th overall. The crew is also coming off a stellar season last year, but has a new coach in Sarah Schwegman. Stroke Naomi Lang sees the mix of old and new as a strength this year.
"We have a new coach, we have a lot of freshmen in our boat, and a new senior on the team," she said. "It's a new way of rowing, a new style, but we still have the same energy, so altogether I feel like we're put in a really awesome place."
Lang was happy to repeat on top of the field this week, having tried not to take anything for granted the past couple weeks.
"The result was awesome; that's what we wanted, but you go out there and you have no idea what will happen because everyone trains really hard," she said. "But we were so pumped at how we did."
Lang also enjoyed racing in the mix with the open crews. "We love racing heavyweights just because it's fun," she said. "We really have nothing to lose. Rowing's the same sport even though we have different weight classes, so it was fun to have lightweights and heavyweights together to try and aim for. We just wanted to catch every boat in front of us."
In the light men's eight, Cornell mixed oarsmen from their Charles-winning light four back into the eight and were able to top the Charles-winning Princeton eight by 1.44 seconds at the Chase. After a truly stellar spring 2015 campaign, the Cornell crews are trying to keep some momentum going into 2016 with focus and by seizing opportunities.
Cornell light men's eight
"I'm really happy about how focused everyone's been in the fall," Cornell senior Nigel Harriman said. "It could be easy to get complacent, but they're still attacking every single day, taking all the opportunities we can. In the row today, the boat was really, really focused."
Sophomore Marco Bustamante is new to the crew, and echoed Harriman's thoughts from a different angle.
"As the youngest guy in the boat and coming in as a new person, the biggest focus for me is always just stay internal," he said. "A lot of times your best races happen when you don't really care about what everybody else is doing, so when you just focus in on matching up with the guy in front of you and just rowing with everybody and committing to the team cause, that helps you row your best race."
Fours, Frosh/Novice Eights
At the Chase, many crews break into fours after the eights race and take another run down the course, and in some cases the top crews feature some new names as the top athletes from smaller or less deep programs get a chance to shine in smaller boats. This year Boston University won the heavy men's fours followed by Cornell, Princeton, and George Washington; Princeton went 1-2 in the women's fours, followed by Boston College and Cornell (with Fordham and Princeton taking the top lightweight spots); and Yale won the light men's fours, followed by Cornell, Harvard, and Princeton.
In the men's frosh eight, California brought a batch of frosh out for the weekend and took the win for the effort, followed by Princeton, Cornell, and George Washington (good weekend for the Colonials); and the Boston University lightweights won the women's novice eight, followed by Princeton, Navy, and Boston College.
More Three-Milers to Come
After this weekend, some of the crews are done racing for the fall, while others will host or race in more locally attended events like the Romp, the Cornell Autumn Classic, the Foot of the Charles in Boston, the Green Monster in Hanover, and similar regattas.
Meanwhile, the rest of the rowing world starts to look southward to giant events like the Head of the Hooch and Head of the South the next couple weekends, and westward to the Head of the Lake and regattas in California. Still a few more weeks of three-milers left; we'll enjoy them while we can until everyone starts staring at machine monitors again soon enough.