Two days after his lightweight varsity eight rowed from down big into a come-from-behind victory over Yale on Lake Carnegie Saturday, Marty Crotty was so stoked, his retelling of the race still breathlessly picked up speed as he moved through the details.
Talking through what happened in the first strokes of the annual Harvard-Yale-Princeton showdown - to how surprised he was to see his crew so far back in the first 900-meters, to when he saw a comeback begin in front of him, and then to the moment Princeton completed catching and then passing Yale in the final three strokes - Crotty's sentences began running together, the emotion in his voice rising like he was back in his chase launch.
"It was pretty historic," Crotty said during a Monday interview with row2k. "Just an epic race. The kind you don't see every day. You have to see it. I know I was involved in it, and we won, so don't get this wrong, but you have to see the race. You just don't see them like that every weekend."
We could spend some time going through the results of every weekend race this year, or even the last few years, to see if that statement holds up, but it would be hard to argue with Crotty's final summation that the race was epic. So, it's as a good place to start this week's collegiate recap as any.
The backstory to the event is set in a few bullet points: The three Ivy League schools have a professed disdain for each other as rivals; together they comprise three of the teams in the top five of the coaches weekly polling - just about every season; and each school competes for many of the same recruits.
The HYP race is a big deal, to everyone involved, it falls near to the end of the sprint season, just about the time crews are within a weekend or two of the beginning of the championship weekend.
Much of the racing in the lightweight league is finger-nail biting close, but, as Crotty tells it; "This race in particular, I think, has an added element of just how badly the guys want to beat each other.
"It starts with recruiting. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are typically going after the same talent coming out of high school, and there are some hard choices to make. Generally, guys make a hard choice between them, and they want to represent that they made the right choice for themselves," he said.
"Then there is just the level of rivalry between the schools. The HYP is a classic, and the only other sport where the three schools are on the same playing field at the same time is track and field. Rowing and track and field are just very lucky that way between the three schools."
"Then," he continued, "in track and field you have umpteen events going on all around the field at the same time. But not in rowing. And in rowing, you condense all of that into a six-minute box of TNT just ready to blow.
"Combine that with the nature of rowing, the nerve wracking nature of what you're feeling on the starting line, and boom, when the flag drops all of this excitement, and enthusiasm, and tradition, and everything, just explodes in the first 40 strokes of the race."
Off the start, Yale took the lead but, Crotty said he always expects Yale to be fast off the line - "I think (Yale lightweight coach) Andy Card in his 32 years has probably had a really fast start for 31 of them, so it was no surprise that Yale bolted out to an early lead. It might have been a surprise that they got such a lead, led by four seconds at the 900."
But then Princeton started to come back - "Little by little, chipping away, chipping away. Conditions got pretty severe in the last 700," Crotty said. "Princeton rowed better in the conditions. Yale started to run out of gas. They locked horns, here comes Princeton. Yale hit the gas, trying to hold them off. Here comes Princeton again, more gears, more gears, more gears. And finally, Princeton got through them with three-strokes to go. It was just unbelievable."
It was a race worth the story, for sure, though at the end of the polling this week Cornell University, which defeated Princeton April 13, in Ithaca, New York, held onto the top spot. Princeton remained second, where they have been since the second poll of the season.
Harvard, ranked fourth before HYP, dropped a spot into five and Yale moved from fifth to fourth. Sitting in third is Columbia, the defending Eastern Sprints and IRA Champions.
Columbia in early season racing
Columbia is having a good season, while still adjusting to lineup differences from last year, with three new athletes in the varsity crew.
"We have a large team that's got a lot of talent and we are just growing at our own pace for the year," said head coach Nich Lee Parker. "It's a little different than last's year's group. Every year is a little different.
"I still think they have a good trajectory and, I think, they've got good plan. They know they need to be ready at the Sprints and you know their goal is to do their best there and at the IRA.
"They are very focused on that and they are ok with that, everybody wants to want to have a great regular season. I think they have had a very good regular season, but they are doing the things they need to do to be ready at the end of the year.
"Right now there are three new people in the V8. We have one junior, but it's his second year on the team, one who is a senior but hasn't rowed since freshman year, then a first-year transfer student," Parker said. "It takes time."
The IRA regular season is concluding, and championship events are fast approaching. Much of the dual racing is over on the West Coast, with the notable exception of the Windermere Cup, which will have racing for masters, juniors and collegiate teams including Washington, BU, UCLA and men's and women's crews from Germany, this weekend.
The East Coast teams will end their dual schedules Saturday and Sunday in Princeton, Boston, Philadelphia, and Mercer, New Jersey.
Charles River racing will feature a final dual between Harvard and Northeastern Saturday, followed Sunday by a dual between Northeastern and Wisconsin.
Havard's first varsity racing on the Charles Saturday
So far this year, Harvard has gone undefeated in the varsity eight with a crew that has a junior, three-seniors, and four freshmen, including stroke Clark Dean, six-seat Douwe de Graaf, three-seat Patrick Adams, and Kenny Coplan in bow.
It is not that unusual for a varsity crew to have a freshman in the top boat, or two. But to have four, including the stroke?
"It is unusual, no question," said Harvard men's coach Charlie Butt, who pointed out that all four freshmen came into Harvard following successful high school and junior careers, and having had top-coaching along the way. Clark has been a standout on the US scene since he began rowing in middle school in Sarasota, Florida and has twice won world junior championships in the single.
Butt said that Harvard graduated 13 seniors last season, including two who are now training for the US senior team, and there was room in the program for the freshman group. "Part of it is just being prepared to track how people are progressing, and the fact that the (athletes) involved have worked very hard to develop themselves physically.
"They have also had the good luck of high quality coaching at a young age," Butt said. "And they have been able to establish themselves because they have adjusted quite well to high standard academic work in a university environment. It's not quite as structured as it is when you are living at home."
He was also quick to point out that the freshman in the crew are benefiting from good, veteran leadership. "I think the only way for the freshman to be such a presence is to have a very strong senior class. The upperclassmen are providing a lot of leadership for how we conduct practice, how we execute our drills, that sort of thing."
And he said, they have had successful careers themselves as Harvard freshman. Two, Lars Lorch and Liam Corrigan, are IRA champions in the second varsity, and Arthur Doyle has been in the varsity eight all four years.
"Our seniors Lars (Lorch), Liam Corrigan, are the leadership on the team. When they were freshman they were JV champions, second boat champions at the IRA, along with Sam Meijer, who is in the two seat of the 2V. That's quite an accomplishment, those were three freshmen who won the 2V at the IRA and the Harvard-Yale race."
It is understandable that an undefeated varsity eight with four freshmen is going to generate a lot of attention and hype. Butt understands that. Still, he said the season is not done and he will not be anointing any crew as special, or talk about the future of the team, until the season in completed.
"We're not in the championship season yet," Butt said. "It is still the regular season, and it's dual match racing. We have a very tough race this weekend with Northeastern," he said.
"The last time we matched up in fours, Northeastern dominated us. We've made a lot of progress since, but we aren't looking past this weekend in the least. We are measuring our progress based how we do this weekend. This is one of the highlights of our spring dual season."
Notre Dame's varsity eight
As in the IRA league, the American Collegiate Rowing Association's season is getting close to closing out. Many teams have already switched gears and are preparing for exam periods, and the Dad Vail Regatta in Philadelphia May 10 and 11.
Notre Dame is one of the teams that is done racing their pre ACRA Championships schedule and is about to hunker down for exams. Notre Dame has had a solid year. The varsity eight finished third at both last weekend's Mid-American Collegiate Rowing Association regatta and at SIRA, the weekend before.
"It's been a fun year. We have really good depth on the team," said head coach Mike Lehmann. "It's my fifth season as the head coach, and it's fun to have my system in place. The guys have bought into everything, and it is starting to pay off. We have done really well this year, and we are hoping to keep that going through ACRA in a month."
It's not like Notre Dame been a team far out of the competition. They finished fifth in the ACRA final last year. But Lehmann said this year's group is just faster. "This is definitely a much deeper and faster team, and I tell them all the time, regularly really, that I would put this year's 2V against last year's 1V any day."
So, Lehmann is hoping for a good result for the top crew this year. But it should be noted that if the first varsity doesn't perform the way he hopes, he will have the third-varsity to cheer on.
Yep, the 3V.
Now, that is not to say Lehmann has set the bar low, even though at a distance it could be viewed like that. Who writes in the season preview brief for row2k's Team HQ section that a goal of the year is a 3V championship?
"We're excited to get back on the water and get into some racing. Our main focus this year is ACRA Team Points and winning the inaugural ACRA 3V event. Only one team will ever be able to say they won the first 3V event at the ACRA Championships, so we are working to put ourselves in a position to be that team. We even warmed it up last year by entering our 3V in many 2V events during the spring."
"Ever since I became the head coach at Notre Dame, at every ACRA coaches' meeting, and at ACRA every year, I have brought up adding a 3V event, because the way it stood the last few years, once you fill your 1V, and your 2V, there were no other eight entries for you.
"We would end up racing a varsity four, and there are teams that are stacked in that varsity four. So, it would be my 3V guys against some school's top guys, which would be great if you are a really, really fast team. But that's a tall order. This year ACRA finally added the 3V event, which says a lot about the health of ACRA, that some of these club teams can get big enough to field a 3V, which is awesome.
"So, this is the first year, and since I have been such a huge supporter of it, we are making it a big focus this year to try to win that event. I have really good depth and the 3V hasn't lost to another 3V yet this year, so I am excited to see what coaches bring to try to beat us."