We said the DI field was tight, but this is ridiculous. Or maybe not; coming into the championships, I would have guessed that some 13 or 14 of the DI varsity eights had a shot at making the grand final; that would have to mean that at least one top contender would end up in the third level final. Still, with eight or nine crews within 6 seconds of each other on time, and the third heat raced in a hair more wind than the first two, I think it would be fair to say that if you could line the entire field up across a big lake, there may well be no open water from first to 16th. This is a deep field.
Still, it was a bit of a stunner when defending team national champion Cal failed to advance through the mid-afternoon reps; from silver in the V8 in 2006 to the trucks in 2007 has to be a hard pill to swallow for the Bears, try as they might to find solace in the overall depth of the field.
Oddsmakers staring down the semis will be hard-pressed to get it right, especially if you prefer to see the forest of the entire season for the trees of the past five hours. If you're looking at the trees, the momentum in the regatta seems clearly on the side of Brown, who famously shows up for the NCAA Championships with a souped-up squad, and Yale, who, despite failing to post the fastest time of the morning (in my opinion due to a puff of a headwind mid-course), were the only crew that had any water between them and the second place crew in the heat ? the other two heats came in at one-tenth and five-tenths separating the top two crews. Other heats break-outs came from at-large invitee Dartmouth, who sent seeded eight Stanford along with Tennessee and Princeton to the reps, and Minnesota, who hauled their way up from the back of the field after a slow-ish start to come within a half-second of top seed USC.
If instead you're looking at the forest and want to think back to the past few weeks, check out the first DI Varsity Eight semi: it is basically the entire Eastern Sprints final plus Minnesota. Taking a regional view, on the upside the "eastern" crews certainly vindicated selectors going five deep from Eastern Sprints, while the usually championship-ready Pacific region had four of six invited crews fail to make the semis. The the Central region placed three crews in the semis, while the Southern region placed two. From the semis, I would then have put the race for medals at maybe seven or eight crews; I think that number will hold for the semis
Conditions were nearly perfect for racing, and as we mentioned yesterday, the ORRA folks have done a fantastic job of getting the site ready for racing, and of running the show today. (I'm making a correction to the feature shortly, but it is worth mentioning that I got upriver and downriver backwards ? the steam plant and nuclear sites are DOWNRIVER of the racecourse ? it's probably an understatement to say this is no quibble.)
Every year row2k is on the starting pontoons for the first heat of the championship, and every year we are struck by the instant intensity that erupts out of the cool morning calm. It is a quiet intensity - serious, focused, and hopeful. And typically we're at the finish line for the afternoon racing, sometimes simply for variety's sake. Today, however, I went up to the start for the afternoon racing, and what a contrast. Where the morning atmosphere was intent, the reps were at a whole new level. Raced in upper-80 degree temps and full sun at 1pm on the nose, the yawing divide between those who would advance, who after all retained hope to make the grand final and even medal, and those who would not advance, but rather go directly to the third-level finals, sucked almost all the air out of the place. It was an incredible sporting tableau to witness.
Everyone was tight, and as hands shot up and down repeatedly in the light cross headwind from lane 6, the starting commands advanced all the way to "Attention" fully four times, each time resulting in the starter advising the crews that she would start over. When the racing finally was underway after a very clean, fair start, it almost seemed like it would be less painful to be at 45 beats per minute than to endure another few seconds at the line. When it was over, Stanford, Tennessee and Princeton earned spots in the Saturday morning semis, while UCLA, Washington, Cal and Central Florida will take Saturday off while waiting for Sunday's third-level final.
In the DIII ranks, Williams and Trinity put themselves in the driver's seat by winning the morning heats, thereby avoiding the finals qualifiers in the afternoon. Thus far, the DIII eights are racing pretty much according to script; witness Oli Rosenbladt's assessment on row2k earlier this week: "The Williams/Trinity battles have tended to define these championships at the D3 level, and with just over a length between these crews at the New England championships, a rematch seems likely." The two crews posted nearly identical times in their respective heats, setting up a Saturday afternoon finals showdown. Williams got it over and done with quickly, putting open water on the field by 500 meters down; Trinity had a bit harder time of things with William Smith in the other heat. At one second behind, the only crew within 10 seconds of these two was William Smith, who will hope to be the spoilers here. Failing that William Smith and UPS should provide certain intrigue in the race for bronze, along with Ithaca; the first two crews were never separated by more than a half-second in the afternoon qualifier, with Ithaca in hot pursuit, and Bates not so far behind. If anyone remembers last year's DIII qualifier http://www.row2k.com/ncaa/features.cfm?ID=189 ? this seems to be how this race can shake out year after year, superb reward for those who stick around for Friday afternoon racing.
In the DII eights, Dowling looks like they would prefer to follow up their Dad Vails win with an NCAA victory as well after posting the fastest time of the morning, but it is a lock that no one is counting out DII powerhouse Western Washington
In the lower boats in DI, a lot of the intrigue results from the developing contest for the points trophy, which in some quarters has become the priority in chasing a national championship. Brown seems heck-bent on avenging last year's nipping in this regard, having won their heats in all three events, the V8, 2V8, and V4. Virginia came close, placing second only in the V8, and that by a tenth of a second ? to Brown. Yale coach Will Porter said last week that he thought his crew could take the points title as well; they'll need a bit better than the first, second and third they posted this morning, but of course these are just heats, which mean nothing if you are in the lead when you cross the finish line come late Sunday.