The 2014 IRA championships began on Friday morning on Mercer Lake with conditions that one could only describe as perfect. With a slight crossing tail, glass flat water, and temperatures in the lowers 60s, coaches, rowers, and spectators couldn’t ask for a better race day.
This is the first time in the history of the IRA that this regatta has taken place at this venue and it has been “so far so good,” said regatta director Gary Caldwell. Caldwell continued, “We were approached about whether we would have any interest in bringing the IRA here (to Mercer), and we were very interested.” The IRA is typically held in Camden, but the decision was made to move to Mercer. “We knew at that time that Camden was going to undergo a dredging project… given the uncertainty about Camden, it was a good idea to move the regatta here, and they have a great history of running really good regattas at Mercer.” So far, so good.
Heavy 8s open the show
The crowds were a little slow to get to the finish line for the start of the first heat, but the IRA waits for no one. Perhaps some of the spectators partook in some of the reunion activities in Princeton… a few looked like it was a long night, but no matter; back to the racing.
The first heat of the varsity men’s 8 kicked off the festivities with possibly the most exciting race of the day. Washington broke out to an early lead, however they weren’t able to pull too far away from Cornell in lane 2, and Yale in lane four. Cornell had the second spot for what seemed to be the majority of the race, but 8th seeded Yale was able to pull ahead of the Big Red in the last 10 strokes. Heat 1 produced the fastest times of the day, but that may have been a result of the battle for second place, forcing the leader Washington to put a little more into the race at the finish.
The next heat displayed a mechanically executed race by Harvard, who established and sat on a comfortable lead over the field early on in the race. Harvard was tailed bow to stern by Northeastern, who had a bow to stern lead over Columbia as the crews crossed the 1500. For the last 500, the two Boston crews separated themselves and cruised in for an easy 1-Harvard, 2-Northeastern victory.
The biggest “shake-up” of the day came from the final heat of the V8, where Princeton’s 1V had a very impressive showing over their Ivy League rivals Brown. Just two weeks ago, Brown beat Princeton by 4 seconds during the Eastern Sprints grand final, however Princeton gained the upper hand today with a striking victory. Row2k caught up with Princeton’s head coach Greg Hughes after the race. “With Brown, that is the 4th time we have raced them this year, and we have had a lot close results just like that," he said. "We just wanted to make sure we executed properly and rowed our best piece. We hadn’t raced in a couple of weeks and it was good to get one under our belt. All of the racing here is always very competitive, so we had a full race.” Princeton’s victory over Brown could have some interesting implications for the semis tomorrow. Brown was the 4th overall seed coming into the heat, but may now face a less than favorable semifinal tomorrow.
Looking at the times across the board, race officials are going to need to warm up the finish lynx camera for the semis and finals. The quality and speed across the board for the entire varsity 8 field was staggering. While some the top programs may have had a little more left in their tanks, the spectators should be in for quite a show in the days to come.
Many of the programs at the 2014 IRA have solid 1V’s, but the top tier programs really distinguish themselves with their overall depth in the 2V, 3V, Frosh 8, and 4+. The deepest program over the last few years has obviously been the University of Washington, who swept every event at last year’s IRA. Washington has been the 2V champs at the IRA for the last 7 years in a row. This year however the Huskies are the underdog to the Cal Bears for the 2V title. Cal kicked off the lower boat competition with a very relaxed victory over BU. Eastern Sprint’s first and second place finishers Northeastern and Princeton won the following two heats of the 2V. Rounding out the morning in the 2V was Washington, who finished the day with the fastest overall time. UW almost looked bored during the latter half of the race as they cruised through the finish line at a somewhat reduced rating. Washington was challenged early on by Cornell, but cranked it up midway through the race and pulled away.
The freshman 8’s are where one gets to look at the future of these programs, and yet again the Cal Bears and Washington Huskies would seem to have a bright future. Both schools won their respective heats in commanding fashion. Wisconsin also turned a few heads today with their freshman 8 for a couple of reasons. First, Wisco had a strong showing with a second place finish in their heat just behind Cal. Freshman coach Simon Carcagno said “it was disappointing not to advance straight to the finals, but it was good to get our bow out ahead of the Eastern Sprints champs.” Wisconsin was also very notable because of their “battleship rig.” When ask about the decision to go with that particular rig Simon said “I have 4 novices in that boat and it’s set up so I can put all of the novices behind someone who can put their blade in the water and get them all rowing together. I have tried to unwind it a couple of times, but it goes slower.”
The morning session finished off with the 3V8’s and Varsity 4. The 3V8’s progressed as advertised with the top seeded 8’s in each heat (Washington, Brown, and Cal) easily winning their heats to advance to semis. The varsity 4 was the only unseeded event for the heavy weight men. This proved to be an unfortunate situation for Brown, who was placed into an incredibly competitive heat. Brown’s varsity 4 finished 3rd in their heat behind Cal and Washington, sending Brown to reps despite having a time that was 10 seconds faster than any other heat. Be on the lookout for the grand finals of the varsity 4. It may look eerily similar to the final varsity 4 heat this morning.
The breeze picked up slightly for the reps, leading to some brisk times for the afternoon session. For the varsity 8’s, all of the top seeded crews in their respective reps advanced to the semi-finals (Cornell, Columbia, Wisconsin, and Navy). Brown’s varsity 4 won their rep in commanding fashion to close out day one of IRAs. No surprises this afternoon. Tomorrow morning we get to see the lightweight women finally stretch their legs and some incredibly competitive heavy men’s semis. See you in the morning!