Just two weeks after triple-digit temperatures visited the Pac-10 championship here at Lake Natoma, competitors at the NCAA championship awoke this morning to a a fantastic May morning featuring sunny skies, cool temperatures (46 at sunup!) and a light headwind - it's just going to be up to the crews to provide the blistering heat this weekend. They've done a decent job of it thus far.
In the D1 V8, with only a bit over a length against the clock separating all the direct semifinals advancers in the heats, it looks like the semifinals will bring the exceptional level of competitiveness we have seen very reliably on Saturday for the past few years. It's hard to say how much a trip through the reps can cost a crew - some may have needed the extra tuneup, others may find the cascade of trips to the line more than they would like to have faced.
After a very off year that found them in the third level final last year - and that just one year after winning the team championship in 2006 - Cal's return to form looks very convincing. Virginia led Cal for 1750, but the Bears found another gear in the last 20 strokes to nudge ahead. Washington also seems to be finding some form; they led their heat for more than half the race before Brown and Stanford both came through, Brown in the third 500, rowing very high, and Stanford nearing the finish line. Once they got their bow ahead of Michigan State, Yale pretty much dominated their heat; with many returnees from last year's crew, they could take another shot at the top of the podium. It's also worth mentioning Wisco's near miss today, in both the heat and the rep; for a crew that was getting mauled earlier in the season not only by some of the crews that they placed ahead of today, but by some who didn't even qualify, they gave it a pretty good go here.
The heats advancement in the DI 2V is as severe as it gets - one to go, everyone else to the reps. The trip to the reps doesn't create a two races in a day scenario as it does in the V8, but who doesn't want a day off - and Brown certainly wanted a day off, as they had a blazing start that allowed them to cruise a good portion of the race. Similarly, Ohio State's 2V definitely impressed, clearing the field by around 500 gone.
In the fours, Virginia looks intent on repeating last year's performance as the class of the field here; Washington's four also showed much of the form that had a big role in getting their squad invited to the championship from the Pac-10, rowing down the course at 31 strokes per minute.
As far as the points championship goes, it's still early days to make any predictions on this one. At least we haven't seen anything like the strong predictor we did last year, when Brown took first place in their heats in all three events. That said, Brown, Cal, and Virginia look strongest across the board; we'll know a lot more after tomorrow's semis and reps; here's a look at the tally of top finishes thus far:
Ohio State 1
In the DII eights, Western Washington looks ready to continue their current four-peat streak without mercy; rowing clear of the field for over 2/3 of their heat, they finished fully eight seconds faster than anyone else in the event. If this trend continues, it looks like it might be up to everyone else to fight for the silver and bronze at this point.
Last year after the DIII eights heats, I wrote "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. " Things went pretty much the same today, only moreso, as Trinity won their heat, while Williams actually had both of their eights win their respective heats. Those three crews go straight to tomorrow's Grand Final, where they will be joined by the top boats from Puget Sound, Ithaca, and Coast Guard, who advanced from the midday Grand Qualifier race.
Here's an interesting stat: in the D1 eights heats, all the heat winners came out of lane 1, all the second place crews out of lane 2, all the third place crews out of lane 4, all the fourth place crews out of lane 3, all the fifth place crews out of lane 5, and the sixth place crews out of lane 6. Almost straight across the lake according to seed, except for the lane 4 crews taking it each time from the lane 3 crews.
The first couple starts of the day at NCAA's can be tense moments; as crews maneuvered into the lanes in the V8s, many seemed to forget how to back and spin their shells, and were catching mini crabs, bumping into the dock, etc.
The "knuckles from cox to bow" has become nearly ubiquitous these days; you do notice that, after the custom goes down the boat in pretty much routine fashion, when it gets to the bow pair, many add some flair on the last link in the chain, whether with a roundhouse knuckle, a punch and grab, or just some wisecracks. A UW bow seat even kept it going right beyond the splashbox, patting the bowdeck of the boat gently and affectionately.
Finally, after watching a whole lot of rowing from the best collegiate crews in the sport, a comment on blade timing: I would swear that you can tell on which side of the boat each team's coach spends the most time.