With a big win over Cal, Washington is a contender this year.
After Harvard lost to Wisconsin at the 2002 Eastern Sprints, a few rowing purists were overheard breathing a sigh of relief; given Harvard's history of skipping the IRA, Wisconsin's win at Sprints would mean that the National Championship would be undisputed. Had Harvard won Sprints, then skipped the IRA, the anticipated match-up of unbeaten Harvard and Cal would have remained hypothetical. Instead, Cal won their 4th consecutive IRA over a very game Wisconsin crew, with Washington third.
Not so this year: the Crimson have dominated in the east, right through Sprints, and have made plans to attend the IRA. Out west, a young Washington crew shocked Cal by 6 seats at the Pac-10 championships, setting the stage for one of the more epic IRAs in recent memories. UW coach Bob Ernst calls it "the best field that's ever been there in my career," and most, if not all observers of collegiate rowing share this view.
Behind these three crews, the field is not exactly shallow. Wisconsin and Dartmouth, the Sprints silver- and bronze-medalists, are likely still gaining speed, while Oregon State and Stanford finished well within hailing distance of Washington and Cal at Pac-10s. Navy and Brown are also potential Grand finalists, while Northeastern, Cornell and Sprints surprise crew Rutgers have an outside shot.
Harvard's trip to Camden also spices up the JV event considerably. As in the Varsity event, the big players are Harvard, Pac-10 champ Cal and Washington. These last few weeks, Princeton's 2V has likely been practicing under the spectre of being rowed through by Harvard with 400 meters left in the Grand Final at Sprints, and will be looking to arrive at Camden on a mission. Sprints bronze-medalist Wisconsin is also in the mix, as is Cornell, who will be looking to redeem the unfulfilled expectations of their subpar performance at Sprints. The JV field was tight at Sprints, and Dartmouth, Yale and Brown will be looking for a lane in the final.
Princeton's frosh romped away from a quality field into a headwind at Sprints, and likely have little anxiety about racing anybody. Harvard, Wisconsin and Brown will provide the stiffest competition of the eastern crews, while Cal was the top freshman crew from the west coast, winning Pac-10s in the mysterious absence of the #2 seed Washington. This event is always good for a surprise or two: remember Michigan's stellar silver medal in 2002.
Given the wind at Worcester for Sprints, the puzzle in the Lightweight Men's 8+ isn't any clearer than it was two weeks ago. Any grumbling about wind and lanes notwithstanding, fifth-seeded Princeton rowed to a solid open water win over two-seed Columbia, with top-seeded Harvard just out of the medals in fourth, behind Yale. Schizophrenic Navy, world-beaters in mid-April, finished a lackluster 9th at Sprints, but the Middies should not be counted out: they led the 2002 IRA final, and came up just a hair short of the national title on the line. Georgetown and Dartmouth should also figure as potential finalists, while Dad Vail champs Delaware, who gave Georgetown a run for their money in early May, will be looking for solid racing on the national stage. While Princeton as the Sprints champ is the favored crew, the Sprints also showed that any crew can take this event on a given day.
The Princeton lightweight women are looking to make it four in a row this year over Radcliffe. The Tigers have handled Radcliffe in their three meetings this season, and are the clear favorites for the national title. Radcliffe will be going after Princeton with the kitchen sink, and these two crews will more likely than not deciding the championship amongst themselves.
Beyond the eights races, the real fun of the IRA begins. There are four events for 4s (varsity, open, freshman, and coxless), plus the pairs event. In recent years, few teams have been able to match Wisconsin for depth, as the Badgers flood the non-eight events with boatloads of hardy racers. Navy and Cornell come the closest, but once again in 2003 it'll be hard to wrest the Ten Eyck points trophy away from Wisconsin.