The 111th IRA Regatta got underway under cooler-than-predicted skies and more than a little wind on Lake Natoma; the variable head/cross-head/cross-tail kept the temps low (until the late afternoon, at least) and the racing honest, if a little squirrely. The IRA "Fairness Commission" made a lane shuffle earlier in the day for the heats in the Men's Varsity, 2nd Varsity and Freshman eights, moving the favored crews from Lane 3 to Lane 5.
Few upsets in the heats today as the favored crews generally kept their noses clean; the Cal V8 paced Brown to win the first race of the day, with these two crews, both moving on in the two-to-advance heat, recorded the fastest times of the day. With the wind picking up almost immediately after the opening race, times this morning were probably not representative of any crew's relative speeds.
The other Varsity eight heat winners were Harvard, Washington and Northeastern, who pulled perhaps a mild "upset" on the day in winning their heat over Stanford, the Pac-12 runners-up.
In addition to Stanford and Brown, Yale and Princeton advanced directly to Saturday's semis.
The 2V and Freshman Eights heats held few surprises, even with the reshuffling of more than a few crews with freshmen moving in and out of Varsity lineups. Coaches have had their tough times this spring keeping track of who's who among their opponents; one coach let on that he'd discovered that one opposing team's freshmen had made up custom gear for their squad, and all he'd had to do at each race was count the number of custom tops in the opposing boats to figure out where the freshmen were that weekend.
Folks here seem fairly evenly split on the new Freshman ruling this year, which allows frosh to race in Varsity events straight out of the gate. Row2k heard a spectrum of opinions in talking to coaches and regatta watchers; from the coaching perspective, the most prevalent concern seems to be the potential for a loss of racing opportunities for college novice or walk-on athletes.
The prelimaries for the Men's 2V was also reasonably without intrigue, as Washington, Cal, Princeton and Brown claimed the heats wins, and moved directly to the semis along with Harvard, BU, Wisconsin and Northeastern.
As far as progressions go, the Men's Freshman Eight had the easiest path to advancement (if anything in IRA racing can be described as easy, whew), with three crews progressing from each heat. Top seeds Harvard, Brown and Washington each won their heats.
In the "almost like high school rowing" department, Princeton debuted their first freshman heavyweight eight of the year here at the IRA, a mix of heavies and athletes from the lightweight squad.
The Men's Varsity and Open fours racing once again showcased strong racing from the big teams, deep teams and small teams alike.
It's in the afternoon of the reps that the IRA goes from "hard" to "brutal" every year; while the morning heats typically advance 1-2 crews to the semis, the reps are suddenly do or die...indeed, the excellent ship-to-shore commentating team here at Natoma used the phrase "do or die" a half dozen times during the reps, without exaggerating in the slightest. With the crosswind increasing in intensity as the afternoon progressed, the reps were definitely not the place to be today.
Wind or no wind, crews were gunning it, no more so than in the Varsity eight where crews need to win the rep to advance. Cornell, Navy, BU and Wisconsin moved on in the Varsity eight. No forgiveness in the reps; in pushing BU to the line, the Penn V8 pulled a time that would have won each of the other three reps, but instead the Quakers progress to the C/D semis, whew.
The rep of the men's freshman eight was almost as heartbreaking, with four crews vying for only three spots left in the semis, and one crew bound directly for the trailer. The race didn't disappoint, with all four crews within six or seven seats crossing the line; George Washington, Dartmouth and Vails champs Drexel head to the semis, with BU finishing just 4 seats short of advancing.
The conclusion of the reps also produced the following, somewhat head-scratching draw for tomorrow's V8 semis: Pac-12 medallists Washington, Stanford and Cal are drawn in Semi 1, and Sprints medallists Harvard, Northeastern and Brown are drawn in Semi 2. With 24 Varsity eights at the regatta, and a predetermined progression for who goes in which lane from the heats and reps, it goes to show that weird stuff can happen.
For equipment nerds, a few coaches pointed out that the wing-rigger Empacher is now definitively the flavor of the month/year/decade. Holy Cross is rowing in a wing-rigged Resolute.
The cool water of the American river is definitely inviting, especially to the athletes; row2k saw dozens of "cooldown soaks" just off the racing lanes, with one crew opting to have their postrace meeting, complete with their coach, thigh-deep in the racecourse.
Onwards to the National Championships semis tomorrow, and the first batch of lightweight racing at this year's IRA.