Going into the 2003 IRA, the novelty of Harvard attending and the roll the Crimson were on combined to give the regatta an aura of something truly special. This year, the novelty has faded, but Harvard is still on a roll; will the outcome be any different?
There's no question that Harvard has paced the field on the east coast. A sweep at Sprints gives Harvard's Varsity, JV and Frosh crews a blanket undefeated season in all three crews, a feat in the east in any year. The seeders for the IRA seem to agree, and have given Harvard the nod at #1 in all three boats.
While Harvard is certainly the favorite going into the regatta, the field behind them is hardly distant; especially in the Varsity 8, Harvard's margins have dwindled compared to last year, and with Princeton, Navy and Northeastern all within 1.8 seconds of each other behind Harvard at Sprints, there are plenty of good crews giving chase. Wisconsin, who have a solid win over Washington to their credit, are also still on the premises.
The west coast battle this season between Cal and Washington this year has been intriguing, and if this rivalry gets hot on the water in Camden, look out: both of these crews can bring major speed to a regatta. At San Diego, Cal thumped Washington, who in turn were upended a few weeks later by Wisconsin. For Washington however, it seems to have been a matter of getting the right bodies into the right seats, and at Pac-10s, Washington roared through Cal in the V8 for the west coast title, with Washington's JV winning as well, albeit much more easily. The result is a two-seed for Washington in the V8 and JV, with Cal third in the Varsity and 5th in the JV. It's been since 1997 since Washington won the championship here, and it's an itch the Huskies would like to scratch here this weekend.
Behind Harvard in the JV 8 are Washington, Cornell, Wisco, California and Brown, with Navy, who are having their best year in heavyweight rowing for quite some time, also looking to make an impression.
In the Frosh 8, it's likely to be a two-horse race between Harvard and Cal, both of whom won their most recent championships with ease. Harvard put over 5 seconds on the field at the Eastern Sprints, while Cal had the luxury of 9 seconds back to their nearest competitors at Pac-10s. Brown, Princeton, Cornell and Penn round out the top 6 seeded crews, but a challenge may yet materialize from Washington, whose Frosh have seemed less than their usual stellar self this season.
In the Men's Lightweight 8, Navy has a Sprints win (and the fact that it's an even year) going for them, but this race has played out so differently from Sprints over the past few years that you have to consider the field pretty open. Harvard rarely loses speed between sprints and IRAs, and Georgetown won a very competent bronze at Worcester, so both these crews will be looking to sink the 'Mids.
In the Women's Lightweight 8, Radcliffe seems poised to snap Princeton's three-year stranglehold on the title, having beaten the Tigers head to head, and at Sprints. Wisconsin also bested Princeton at Sprints, and takes a deserved two-seed into the 12-boat field, but experience tells us that the race will play out between Princeton and Radcliffe.
Any attempt to preview the IRA races beyond the Varsity 8s would be foolhardy; smaller programs, zone rows, a lot of Wisconsin crews and sheer guts have historically defined the small-boats rowing at the regatta, and this year is unlikely to be any different.