With all the preliminary racing (except for the lightweight men) in the books, we're down to the business end of the 2013 IRA. Any way you slice it, it was business time here today, with crews ratcheting up the intensity here for some furious, exciting racing.
The University of Washington crews, as many had expected, were at the top of the stack today, winning all five semifinals they contested; UW also rowed to the fastest overall times in three of the five events (MO4+, MF8, MV8); as everyone knows, times are mostly meaningless until the finals, but clearly, the Washington Huskies are here with the goal to win.
Perhaps tellingly, it was Cal that posted the other two top times today. Cal crews had a great day today, joining Washington and Brown as the only two teams to put all five open men's crews into tomorrow's finals.
"The past couple of weeks have been really productive, and to see all the boats make the finals, that's a big thing for us," said Cal head coach Mike Teti.
Cal's peaking nature was nowhere more apparent than in the Varsity Eight, where the Golden Bears not only posted their closest margin to UW this season, but put two losses to Stanford in the rearview mirror, putting the Cardinal away in the last 500 meters of the so-called "West Coast semi."
"With the Varsity, what I was most impressed with is that they were slow out of the blocks, but were able to push through the middle, which is something we haven't been able to do," said Teti. "You work on it, and you hope they execute it, and they did that today."
The Princeton heavies also left their best strokes out there today, pushing through Stanford to finish third behind Washington and Cal. Although Princeton finished "only" fourth at the Sprints a few weeks ago, a few observers have said that this could be a big weekend for the Tigers, and on the evidence of this row today, folks might not argue.
"I'd like to say that was the race plan, but it wasn't, it was just a pure guts race by the boat," said Princeton head coach Greg Hughes. "I'm proud of the guys and excited for tomorrow's final."
In the "Sprints Semi," Harvard looked untroubled, simply executing their plan, unfazed by the Northeastern/Brown brawl off to their starboard. These three crews broke away from the field early and made it a race, with Northeastern slipping by Sprints silver medalists Brown in the last 250. The Northeastern crews at the IRA have looked great thus far ("extremely composed," as one veteran race observer put it), and will look to finish the season strongly tomorrow.
"All of our crews raced very well and very hard today and we are pleased with the steps the crews continue to take to build our program," said NU men's head coach John Pojednic.
The Men's 2V had the tighest spread today, with all six finalists across two semis within one length, or 2.9 seconds. Washington's Freshman eight utterly blew the curve in their event, winning their semi going away. The fours semis were no different, with both the Varsity and Open Fours producing some absurdly competitve racing.
Numerous coaches commented on the quality of the racing at this year's IRA. "I haven't seen an eights final with six crews this strong in a long time," said Cal's Mike Teti. "Normally, you'd have one or two outstanding crews, maybe three, but it looks like there's no one bad out there now, right down into the Petite." Princeton's Greg Hughes concurred. "No question this is the deepest 8's field I've ever seen," said Hughes. "It also has a remarkable amount of parity among the top crews. It's really impressive to see the quality of men's rowing in the US right now."
The lightweight women got started today, with heats and reps in the Women's Lightweight Eight, and a race for lanes in the Women's Lightweight Four. Co-favorites Stanford and Radcliffe cruised to wins in their respective heats, posting times a half second apart, but behind them, Bucknell and Wisconsin shuffled the field, sending Sprints silver- and bronze-medallists Princeton and Georgetown to the rep, respectively. From the rep, later on Saturday afternoon, Georgetown and Princeton moved on while MIT, who made an incredibly game attempt of it in the rep, was the lone crew eliminated from the seven boat field.
In the Women's Lightweight Four, Wisconsin, Radcliffe and Fordham took the top three spots in the six boat preliminary, and will race in the middle of the course in tomorrow's final.
It was hot again today, but winds stayed low, and above all fair, with a light, direct headwind kicking across all lanes for most of the racing. (Incidentally, on the topic of fairness; we referred to the IRA "Fairness Commission" in our report yesterday, but it's actually the IRA Fairness Commission (without quotation marks). The Fairness Commission serves at the behest of the coaches to ensure equitable racing conditions for all competitors, and is not an afterthought.)
While the Fairness Commission had very little to do today, the "I'm going to get you in trouble" commission was a little busier; one team was cited by CA Park Rangers for using the rope swing above the river, near the starting line, and dinged for a fairly substantial sum, ouch.
Another story we heard today; one team had all three of its vans pulled over and checked for seat belt use early in the regatta, which resulted in individual "click it or ticket" fines for nearly everyone but the drivers, double ouch. Be smart, kids!
Finally, it's usually a sign that you've got a pretty good regatta going if the souvenir gear is flying off the shelves. By the end of the reps, the official IRA T-shirt store was down to tanks in the 2XL size only.
On to the finals!
2013 IRA Eights Semis
Semifinals in the Eights events at the 2013 IRA Men's Collegiate National Championships (www.row2k.com)