In a morning that went off (almost) without any major hitches, but certainly not without some major happenstance. I'll give some info on the conditions and cut to the chase: A light post-dawn rain when wakeup calls were ringing all through the local hotels gave way to a gentle haze, cool-ish temperatures with a light headwind that barely moved the big flag at the starting line, and very fair conditions on the Cooper River.
The two big stories of the morning have to be Stanford's throwdown in the first heat - they had open water on the field by 1250 gone in a race that included Yale, Radcliffe, Washington, and Ohio State - and Michigan's overhead crab in the third heat that took them from a very narrowly defended third place semi qualifying position with 300 to go to 20 seconds off the pace by the finish.
Since a wobble against Cal this year, Stanford has fulfilled the potential of their personnel, which include two Olympians, one of them a gold medalist just 10 months ago, with a solid win at Pac-10s, and a blowout in the heat, in which they made a clear statement of intent this morning. They reached 500 gone just a hair ahead, and in the middle of the third 500 had a bit more than a length on the field. Any oddsmaker alive would have pegged them to win this weekend, and we haven't seen anything to counter that notion today. Behind Stanford, Yale, Radcliffe, and Washington all had second position at some point. Yale raced in the pack for a while before bumping out a bit in the third 500, only to have Washington come back a bit with a surge that got them ahead of Radcliffe by two-tenths.
Cal got things done in their signature style, cruising somewhat in the early going, rowing 33 to Brown's 38, and then put the hammer down as has been the practice of Cal's best crews over the years. Brown went for it all they way down the course, while Michigan State rowed almost alone in third, with patches of open water to any crews both ahead and behind them.
The first and third heats of the V8 were the real brawls of the morning, woah. In the third heat, Virginia had to get it done with a real bread and butter effort (perhaps mixed with a bit of black pudding spread) through the 1000 to nudge their bow out front. Princeton went with them a bit, with Michigan in close pursuit. But it wasn't over by a longshot; as Clemson came storming up on the field in the final 500. As the race tightened up exponentially, the Michigan crew had a dramatic, full-blown boat-stopping overhead crab that completely dropped them from the running.
(Some additional backstory in the V8: unfortunately, it sounds like the Michigan rower was injured either before or after the crab, and Michigan will have to row with a substitute in the reps this afternoon. Additionally, unofficial reports indicate that Dartmouth may have had some equipment problems during their varsity eight heat; they were rowing 31 late in the race, so clearly something was amiss. Finally, at least one injury in the USC varsity before traveling to NJ forced the squad to pull up one person from each boat into the boat above.)
When the spray cleared and the times posted to the Web, the intensity that crews will need in the semis was almost ridiculously apparent; Stanford's time bested the pack by just under a couple seconds, but after that there were seven crews between 6:29.4 and 6:34.6. Coming into the racing, I thought that this was the deepest field we had seen since the 2003 championship, where I would have said up to 11 crews had a shot at the medals. I'm not sure the pack is as close this year, but it is as deep; it's reasonable to say that 11-12 crews have a shot at the top four spots.
DI Second Varsity Eight
When the first heat of the second varsity eight pulled into the line, one of the coaches setting up for the peloton said "this is where the team championship is decided." You can't really argue; when was the last time the team trophy didn't come down more or less to two teams by the time the V8 comes down, with whoever came out on top in the V taking the team trophy?)
Without getting into the debate of full teams versus at large invites, which is of course decided at present and I think really worked out well over all this year, there is one real upside to having 16 complete teams participating, and that is the fact that all three DI events have identical advancement and qualification progressions. The second varsity eights didn't quite provide the drama that the V8 did, save for Cal's big last 500 kick to overtake Yale in the first heat, and a classic late-May Brown 2V row down the course, which has struck terror in the hearts of many team trophy hopefuls over the years.
In the fours, the biggest storyline was another overhead crab involving Michigan - but this time it went the Blue's way (and really went UW's way). Racing to the line with Yale having led the whole way, Brown in second, Michigan in a close third, and Washington a bit back but coming on, Brown went overhead to let Michigan and UW through to advance straight to the semis. It has to be tough to make a trip back to the course in the afternoon after a blowup like that, but as Dick Dreissigacker said while discussing some of the day's mishaps during a brief respite from taking a run around the lake, "that's why you have repechages."
Incidentally, Virginia was the only school to win all three of its DI heats this morning.
Williams left no doubt that they wanted to put the race away early, with a length open at 500 down, and a couple more at the 1000. When viewing the DIII results, you have to be mindful that each heat is a mix of varsity and second varsity crews, so that the heats times and margins are not necessarily indicative of what could happen once the finals have been sorted out. Notably, Bates did the same in the second heat, if not quite as dramatically. The third heat had a decidedly different look, with two crews within a half deck for 1250 or more, and the times showed it, with winner Trinity pushed by Ithaca to finish six and eight seconds faster than the other two heats.
It was critical to win this one, as the top crew in each heat advances directly to tomorrow's Grand Final and a clear shot at the medals. The second and third place crews will row this afternoon in the three-to-go Grand Final Qualifier, with the rest racing in the Petite Qualifier. An important reminder: the DIII racing concludes a day earlier than the DI and DII racing, with the champions being crowned tomorrow morning.
If anyone was hoping to figure out whether Western Washington could keep their spot on top of the heap for the fifth consecutive year, or if Mercyhurst was ripe to topple them, they did not get an answer this morning. In their respective eights heats this morning, Mercyhurst went 7:01.16, WWU went 7:01.72. The races played out in very different fashion, with Mercyhurst pushing out to a comfortable lead at the 1000, then starting to shut down slightly in the one-to-the-semi format only to have Seattle Pacific keep charging all the way down the course. Mercyhurst had to regroup and get back to full racing intensity, never an easy task as many rowers know, and held off SPU by a mere 1.19 seconds.
And neither crew won their fours heat, with Nova Southeastern taking the sole available finals spot over Philadelphia, followed by WWU in third and Mercyhurst in fourth. It all just makes for more intrigue, and more interesting racing, as we head toward
During the break in racing, the threat of incoming thunderstorms included a prediction of no less than a hailstorm; what's next, locusts? As the afternoon racing got closer, however, it appeared that the storms would wait out the racing.
Well, if one thing was clear after watching three single 7-boat reps with only three to advance to the semis in each of the DI events, it was that you have to really be up for it in the afternoon if you want to move on; this was perhaps no more devastatingly evident than in the V8 rep that saw Sprints silver-medallist Radcliffe, who fell just two-tenths of a second short of qualifying out of the morning heats, perhaps pay the price for their big AM row and falter to fifth in the rep, and out of contention for a semis spot. The V8 rep saw a screaming finish at the front from the far side of the course, with neither Ohio State in lane 6, Michigan in lane 5 or USC in 4 granting a thing to anyone; at the line, the verdict was OSU, Michigan and USC, with just .42 of a second separating first from third.
The Dartmouth, Radcliffe, Oregon State and Wisconsin V8s reprise their reps matchup in the 3rd level final on Sunday morning.
In the DI 2V, Princeton left nothing to chance and went coast to coast with bombs going off behind them; neither crew that were in the remaining 2 qualifying spots at the 1000, Wisconsin and Oregon State, could hang on as USC and Clemson came from fifth and last at halfway, respectively, to book their lanes in the semi. Talk about wanting it? Clemson's 3rd 500 was 12 seconds faster than the crew they overhauled for the third and final spot in the semi, Oregon State, whew.
Stanford, Brown and USC took the top three spots in the DI Varsity Fours rep, with a touch less drama then the eights; with the exception of Princeton's stirring bid over the final 800 meters or so, the crews moving on had pretty much sorted themselves out by the 1000.
We'd remarked earlier about USC's lineup troubles; well, if you're going to get on track, the reps are not a bad place to do it. USC saw all three of their Varsity crews head to the reps, and all three lineups got it done, earning spots in the semis.
DIII Grand/Petite Qualifiers
The DIII crews that did not win their heats this morning raced again in the Petite/Grand qualifiers in the afternoon; at the DIII level, the intrigue is whether you might get your 2V into the Grand Final, a result that would make the team title a near-lock for your squad; the Williams 2V did just that, rowing a furious race out of lane 6 to win their Grand Qualifier; they will join their heats-winning 1V in the Grand tomorrow, along with other heat winners Bates and Trinity, and the Ithaca and Puget Sound 1Vs, who finished behind the Williams 2V in the qualifier.
The Willamette 1V, an at-large selection, methodically worked their way from 6th to 3rd over the last 1500 of the race to claim a spot in the petite, just behind the Bates and Ithaca 2Vs. They'll join the St. Lawrence and Smith 1Vs and the Trinity 2V in the Petite final, which, just on comparing times from the two qualifiers, should be a great race. While some might wonder at the logic of combining 1Vs and 2Vs in the same event, you have to believe that any 2V worth its salt will be amped to the gills to race another team's 1V down the course.
The DIII champions will be crowned at noon tomorrow, at the conclusion of the morning's racing.
While the storms that threatened during the morning never materialized, thunder cleared the course of crews just a half hour or so into the practice session; tomorrow's weather, if it holds as predicted, should allow all racing to proceed as scheduled.