Two New DIII champions were declared today; as was the case last year, one team won the team championship, another the V8 championship. Williams took the team trophy with an unprecedented two eights in the medals, but was denied the V8 victory by a vicious sprint from the Ithaca V8. Ithaca had shadowed the Williams eight by just a few feet for the entire race, drew even with about six strokes to go, nudged ahead with about three to go, and scooted over the line 0.45 seconds ahead of the Williams I Eight, followed by the Williams II Eight about 20 feet behind in bronze medal position. The photo finish took a few minutes to be confirmed and announced, but by then there was absolutely no doubt about who had taken the team trophy.
Defending champs Trinity hung back for much of the race, and gave it a good go between 600 and 200 to go, but couldn't quite claw their way back into the pack; the squad did take the bronze in the team trophy. Meanwhile, all the way on the other side of the lake Tufts and Smith were trading strokes, just as they have all year, with Tufts coming out on top by a few seats to take fifth. Smith was consoled by the fourth place team trophy, while Tufts, in its second consecutive NCAA appearance, seems to be getting a bit of a feel for the big show.
With only 2.26 seconds separating the two Williams eights, the first question I was asked when I got off the water was "do you know if they set even boats to try to win the team title?" Williams coach Justin Williams debunked the theory, explaining that, after ECACs, several frosh rowers were brought into the mix in the 2V.
"When we first set the boats, the 2V was a little raw, and we had about 10 seconds between the two crews when we did a few 1000 meter pieces," he said after the race. "As time went on, they got closer and closer." But Moore said it wasn't until the racing was underway that the 2V starting really feeling their oats.
"For the heats, the only goal was to come top four (to advance); we just said we have to come top four," he said. "And they did that, and we looked at the times and said, hey, we might be able to make this final. And then they did an astounding job and won the qualifier, and started thinking about medals."
But with two crews so close together, you have to wonder – could the V8 have gone faster? "As a coach, you could be thinking, hey, did I miss something? But at ECACs we were 3.6 seconds behind Ithaca, and today it was only .6 seconds, with a great race by Ithaca. I think we had our best two eights out there, and we're really happy with the outcome." It was clear Williams was happy; with a cheering section of men stripped to the waist with each letter of the school name painted in purple on his chest, the Williams celebration was pure bubbling joy.
The day started off with a DII rep that would make a veteran coaches gut drop out – with two to qualify, never more than 6-7 seats separated the field, and the final margin from 1-4 was 2.2 seconds, oof. This was followed by a two-boat, one-to-advance DII fours rep that had even less between qualifying and not qualifying, all the way down the course. Double oof. One important observation: the level of racing and rowing skill in both the DII and DIII has really surged lately, I would say even in the past year alone. The DI crews are still for many reasons "in another league," but no one who watched the racing the past few years, and then the past two days could fail to notice that the rowing is truly coming on. Congrats and keep it coming, we say!
In DI V8 racing, Princeton rocketed out to open water lead in the early stages what looked on paper like a real bruiser of a heat – and a seven-boater at that thanks to the dead heat on Friday. Unless someone else was holding back today, and it sure didn't look like it, the Tigers will be tough to catch, by the tail or any other way. Cal remains undefeated on the year – ah, make that two years – with their win in the other semi; and according to the times, Brown's record for coming on strong at the national championship may play out in tomorrow's final. The grand includes two crews from the west coast (Cal and WSU), two crews from the central states (Ohio State and MSU), and two crews from the "east coast," albeit from different regions, Brown and Princeton. The stunner of the group is unquestionably Michigan State, who placed a wholly unremarkable seventh at the South Central Sprints, and attended the regatta arguably solely on the performances of their lower boats. The crew felt they peaked too early last year - looks like they figured things out a bit!
In the 2V8s, Cal and WSU came out on top of a two-to-advance rep that saw four crews racing within about six seats of each other the whole say; in the second rep, Wisco punched themselves out to an early lead that proved very useful in avoiding the back and forth surges of Princeton and MSU, with Princeton coming out on top in the final strokes to take the second grand final spot.
Finally, in the fours reps, Washington and WSU raced nearly identically in their rep, almost such that they could have held hands on their way down the course to put two Evergreen State crews in the Sunday final; the same could be said of OSU and MSU in the other rep – less than a second separated the qualifiers one from the other in both reps.
(Of course, Saturday at NCAA's would not be complete without the results of the annual Riggers National Croquet Tournament - medal photo to come.)
On a final note, with two national champions crowned and a dozen or so podiums full more to come tomorrow, now is probably a good time to say "I told you so" to the many people who wondered just how good the racing at this championships can be. When you have had almost nary a dull moment over two days, and some of the best yet to come, folks who know too well how spectator-confounding the sport can be could almost ask themselves: "Wait, this is really exciting - am I really watching rowing?!?"