As the best in the business convened on Lake Natoma for the 2010 NCAA Championships, the torrential rains and hailstorms that almost shut down the final practice session yesterday afternoon were but a memory, and the crews got down to business on a cool and calm morning. We linked up the video, splits, and results links early this morning, so I'll try to avoid telling you what you already know; here is how we saw it; in almost every case today, the favored big guns fired loudly and convincingly.
Save for a methodically executed sprint by Stanford that overcame a Yale lead that had amounted almost to open water earlier in the race, there were few surprises in the DI eights field. None of the favorites were caught desperately off-guard, and save for Stanford's wholly voluntary burst, none really had to go to the well to earn a spot in the Saturday morning semis. Otherwise the top seed in lane 1 won handily and somewhat going away, and although each crew showed a little bit of stuff at some point in each race, it was clear no one really pulled out all the stops just yet.
The single seven-boat afternoon rep at the NCAA may be the deadliest rep of the year, and in the early going everyone was in it - after a morning of parades and near-parades, the brawl spectators witnessed in the first 1000 meters prompted one wag to comment "this is some adult boatracing." As the crews came down the stretch, Michigan and Washington separated themselves from the field to let everyone else scrabble over the third spot in the semis; Wisco made an early statement and broke out of the pack with about 400 to go, and even charged back up on the the leaders to close to within a second and a half of eventual winner Michigan.
With about 20 seconds separating the frontrunners from the back of the pack, overall there seems to be a bit less parity in the ranks than in recent years past; this has arguably been the case all year long. This perception could certainly be proven wrong in tomorrow's semis, which tend to feature some of the most fierce and risk-defying racing of the weekend, and arguably even the entire collegiate season.
DI 2V Eights
Much like Yale did in the 1V, the top-ranked Princeton 2V relinquished a big early lead in the latter stages of the first heat of the 2V, this time a bit earlier in the race to a solid Virginia crew.
If anyone can beat the Virginia four on Sunday morning, they sure didn't show their stuff today. The UVa four was fully five seconds faster than any other crew in the event, and they looked every bit that much better coming by the finish line crowd this morning.
DI Team Championship
In the team championship chase, of the putative favorites, only Stanford failed to qualify all three crews straight to the semis from the heats when their four had to go through the reps. Brown, Cal, Princeton, Virginia, and Yale skipped the reps in all boat classes.
Of those, Virginia was the only crew to win their heat in all three events, repeating a feat they achieved last year as well.
DIII Eights - Williams All But Wins the NCAA's on Friday
Like the UVa four mentioned above, but arguably even moreso, the Williams varsity eight planted an entire field's worth of seeds of doubt in an absolute blowout of a heat - they crossed the line rowing nearly at a "conversational pace" finishing in 6:35.09, just short of 20 seconds ahead of second place Puget Sound. Their 2V's bid for the second best time of the event was foiled by a dynamic Bates crew, which finished in 6:41.1 to Williams II's 6:42.02. Ithaca won the other heat in 6:48, but was not really tested, so they may have more to show in hopes of gaining some revenge from a few weeks ago.
The heat winners all advance directly to the Saturday medals race, while everyone else had to come back in the afternoon to fight for the rest of the places in the Grand and petite finals. The Williams 2V put the hammer down again, besting five V8s in the process. As the only team with two crews in the Grand final, from what I can tell Williams may have already won the team championship?
DII Eights and Fours
Much like last year, Western Washington and at-large invite Mercyhurst each walked away with a heat win on Friday morning. But while last year they had nearly identical times in the heat, this year WWU would seem to have the upper hand going into the final if the clock is to be trusted. Only those two crews advance directly to the final; everyone else rows in tomorrow's reps. None of those crews seems in a position to topple the top two crews, as there was open water separating all places in both heats. WWU will be mightily motivated by the chance to win an unprecedented sixth straight NCAA championship punctuated by a win in the V8, and Mercyhurst will be just as motivated to keep it from happening, so the V8 challenge isn't over til it's over, I would say.
In the fours, however, Mercyhurst does not have an entry in the race, and WWU showed a lot more speed than anyone else in the field, so that sixth championship is WWU's for the taking.
The referee corps did their annual "referee training" after the close of racing on Friday, and all of the spare pairs were kind enough to go out and race in the lanes so the refs could practice. This is our official story (pun intended), and we're sticking to it. Winners were given sparkley shirts of some kind, and apparently a tiara. The immensely critical Style Awards were presented as well, with the winners as follows:
Style Awards (as judged and awarded by the referee ranks):
1st place: Michigan St - for racing in red and green Mario and Luigi costumes, including mustaches and suspenders
2nd Place: Stanford - for racing in "Stealing Fitness" uniforms complete with masks and beaded fringes on their racing shirts
See the full results here.
Scenes from the shore:
- A Wisco fan brought a 15-foot high flag to both the morning and afternoon races, and waved and swirled it with a fierce and dogged determination; the flag did not stop moving all day long. Some observing coaches commented on the value of the work required to keep the flagpole in motion: "that is some decent core work he is doing," one noted.
- Wisco fans not only flew the flag, but they danced the polka; at random intervals they paired off and began dancing in a big group. Roll out the barrels Badgers!
- Parents were diligently and expertly videoing their children's races, adding their own commentary complete with advancement details, crews by lane, and assessments of the conditions. Some vids may show up on youtube, but not all: "My daughter won't let me post any of them," one Dad said. "She said all the other teams would be looking for them."