A day of fantastic racing at all levels ended with an interminable meeting of the Championships committees after fully four hulls came in under the minimum weight when chosen randomly after their racing. In the morning racing, the Cal 2V came in a half-pound under the 205 lb. eights weight, nullifying their win and relegating them to the reps. This allowed the Michigan State 2v to leapfrog from a fourth-place finish in Cal’s heat directly into the semis, and created a hellish 2V rep that would now include Cal in Lane 7.
When the rep came down the course, four crews barreled across the line in a photo finish, with Michigan in the lead, Cal in second, 0.17 behind, while out in the teeth of the wind in Lane 7, and Washington State 0.22 behind both for third. This left Yale on perhaps the most wrong side of the boat-weight relegation issue. After coming just fourth in another photo-finish this morning, Yale was again just out--this for a crew that went fully five seconds faster than the Michigan State crew advanced when Cal was relegated.
Moments after the rep was reckoned, a bad situation crested fully into the realm of the absurd, as the Washington State 2V came in four-tenths of a pound underweight. Now Washington State was relegated to last place in the rep, which would leave them out of both the semis and a shot at the finals and medals. The smiles of the ebullient crew quickly changed to tears at the news.
Additionally, in the morning racing, both the Mercyhurst and Humboldt fours were declared underweight, nullifying Mercyhurst’s victory and sending them to the reps; Humboldt placed second of two in their heat, so their advancement was actually unaffected.
Coursing through all this was the unfortunate fact that the boatmen and coaches have been questioning the veracity and consistency of the scales since they were set up on Wednesday, with reports of weight being added with zero or minimal change when the boat returned to the scales.
Under the circumstances, the championship committee and referees convened to review the situation, weighed all the various concerns, recertified the scales with the determination that they were light, and finally decided shortly before 7 pm that all hull weight violations would be dismissed: the Cal crew would race out of Lane 1, in keeping with their victory in the heat in the morning; the Washington State crew would get to hold onto the semi slot they earned with that courageous sprint; the Michigan State crew advanced by the original officials’ decision would keep their spot in the semis; and, finally, the Yale crew would be re-included in the 2V semis field by way of a seven boat race. For the DII fours, the Mercyhurst crew’s victory in the morning heats was reinstated to allow them to advance directly to the Grand Final, and Nova Southeastern reassumed their place in the rep against Humboldt State.
In the end, the main consequence of the weigh-in episode was that the Cal 2V had to race one extra time; beyond that, the scales tipped to the better in the end.
DIII - Eights
The first races down the course in the light headwind that greeted the opening of the 2011 NCAA Championship were the two seven boat heats of the DIII eights. The DIII progression sends the winner straight to the grand final, while second through fourth get a second chance in this afternoon’s Grand Qualifier, and the last three crews race in a Petite Qualifier.
Williams, as they have for the past several years, came down with the lead--and if they can hold on this form, perhaps the regatta--well in hand. There was, however a tight race for the lanes in the Grand Qualifier, with Ithaca coming through mid race and holding on, in a bit of a non-sprint, for second over inside lane William Smith. Puget Sound was right in this East Coast mix in this one, and looks to be in line for a spot at the table in the grand with a strong Grand Qualifier race.
In heat two, Bates and Wellesley battled it out right to the end to win the one “straight to final” spot. Wellesley won the race to the thousand, just , but Bates kept fighting and took the win. Both pressed out to open water over Trinity and Williams II, who each qualified easily for the Grand Qualifier. By the end of the heats, Williams already looked to be on track here, with a shot to land both eights in the grand and lock up title number six.
DI - I Eights
Princeton opened the DI racing looking every inch the top seed: up by open water just 750 meters, the Tigers qualified comfortably. Michigan State was the only crew in this one with the juice to chase Princeton, and held off Virginia in the process. Michigan got in the mix early, but faded to a charging Washington--both head to the rep.
The next two heats, with tighter racing, pushed the pace on times but only barely: Brown high-stroking to a win heat two with the best time of the day, but just 1.2 seconds faster than Stanford, and 1.4 seconds faster than Princeton.
Brown had the easier go of the two, or at least Bruno made it look easy, leading the whole way over second-seed Cal. Those two separated from the pack by a good bit in the early going, getting out in front of a death-match for the third spot between Dartmouth, Yale and a fast-starting Clemson eight. Dartmouth had the better of Yale for a bit, but even the younger Yalies know a thing or two about racing hard at the NCAAs. Yale got it done here to move forward, while Dartmouth and Clemson were off to the rep.
All the fireworks were saved for the third heat, with USC and Stanford waging a tight battle on the lead that was as much about locking up a good lane going forward as it was about revising the PAC-10 results from two weeks ago. USC lead early, but it was Stanford who emerged in the final 500 meters and went on to an impressive bit of open water.
Behind, the rest of the pack clawed after the third spot in a four-boat tie that lasted most of the way. Wisconsin, Washington State, Ohio State, and Harvard each had their bow in the third spot at one point, but Washington State prevailed in the end, moving through a struggling Wisconsin in the final sprint. The whole beach got an intimate peek at Wisconsin’s fade when the chase announcer narrated the whole thing over an open mike--oops!
DI - Second Eights
Things were a bit clearer in the II Eights, or so it seemed on the water, with Brown, Stanford and Cal cruising to open water wins. Off the water, things got complicated when the Cal 2V shell --selected at random--came in about a half pound under the minimum hull weight of 205 lbs. Unfortunately, according to numerous coaches and boatmen, the scales at the regatta had been plagued by unexpected and inconsistent readings for the past few days; nonetheless, the prescribed penalty was applied.
Here at the NCAAs, that penalty is relegation, so the Bears were forced to advance through the rep. Michigan State, who took fourth in the Cal heat, was advanced directly to the semi as a result, along with Virginia and Wisconsin--meaning, essentially, that one less spot was available in the rep.
The boat weight issue became the story off the water, but first the II Eights provided an early glimpse at the team race. Brown’s win in heat one showed that Bruno is on some fine post-season form in the eights, and Ohio State’s 2V in a strong second over Princeton showed the Buckeyes could yet be in the team race if their Varsity can come through the rep. Princeton’s 2V trailed the Buckeyes to the line, but the Tigers were advancing comfortably and are still very much in the team hunt.
In the second heat, we saw Stanford well on their way to getting it right so far, just as they did in their title run two years ago. The Cardinal dominated their heat--this despite a fierce fight amongst USC, Washington, and Yale that produced the photo finish of the morning. At the line, the USC cox looked like she thought maybe they’d been nipped, but it was Yale who came up short: USC had actually stayed in front, but just 0.03 ahead of Washington, with Yale just 0.3 away from escaping the rep.
DI - Four
As noted before, many team’s chances at the title, at least on day one, rest on the student-athletes in the four and getting through to the semi unscathed is crucial to continuing a run. Here Cal cruised, and OSU continued to have Princeton’s number, taking second, but Tigers are through in all three events already in their bid for a first-ever team title. Not so for Brown: after some head-turning wins in the eights that created some Bruno-buzz earlier, the Brown four was trailing Virginia, USC, and Stanford the whole way.
The story in that heat turned out to be Stanford: 7th at Pac-10 by a considerable margin, the Cardinal four had all the speed they needed to go after well-regarded Virginia here, making up about 24 seconds on USC in the process. The middle heat didn’t have many implications for the overall title race, but saw one of the gutsier races of the morning, as Wisconsin overtook Washington and went on to win by open water; Washington State came third, well ahead of Yale and Harvard.
DII - Eight and Four
Racing in the DII events went right as scripted, maybe too much so for Mercyhurst and their plans to play spoiler in Western Washington’s drive for a seventh title. The WWU Vikings made about as emphatic a statement as possible in their three boat heat, winning by an ocean of open water over Humboldt State, who had a similar margin over Nova Southeastern.
Mercyhurst opened a similar gap on Seattle Pacific and Barry, but the Lakers time was 12 seconds in arrears of the Vikings. As hard as it is to compare times on margins that large, it is hard to see the Vikings as anything less than the overwhelming favorite for Sunday’s DII final.
It was the same story in the fours: Western Washington and Mercyhurst by a ton, with about a ten second gap in their times.
DIII - Grand & Petite Qualifiers
Wellesley rowed a hard race in the morning to try and go straight to the final, only to just miss to Bates. They showed no ill effects in their afternoon race, though, controlling the field with half a length over an Ithaca crew going gangbusters right next to them. Williams Smith took the third sport, but the story here was the Williams II eight. Down early to Trinity, the Eph’s JV rallied down the stretch to earn a spot in the grand and a very strong leg up in the points race for the team title. A team win by Bates or Wellesley is on some serious life-support now: short of Williams going fifth and sixth in the final and a first place in both finals for another school, Williams will be headed home champions again.
DI - Eights Repechage
Wisconsin, finally having the race here this afternoon that coach Bebe Bryans thought the Badgers had in them all season, came through a field full of lead changes to control the last thousand and win. Harvard led early, with Michigan and Dartmouth in qualifying spots, but the Wolverines outlasted both Ivies to go onto the semis, along with Washington. The Huskies rode lane one right into second behind the Badgers with a massive second half charge. Ohio State was briefly in the mix, moving through the field with Washington, but the Buckeyes could not complete the task at hand and found themselves out of the picture, along with Clemson.
DI - Second Eights Repechage
Cal, after their relegation for in the morning heat, faced this field in lane seven and, as the breeze came up, the Bears had a fight on their hands. Michigan in lane one grabbed the lead from Cal at one point, but the Bears kept fighting--working pretty hard for a crew that had won handily here in the morning. Michigan took the win by a tenth in an inside-to-way-outside photo finish over Cal. Washington State outlasted Yale what appeared to be the final spot, pending the lengthy NCAA committee deliberations about what to do about the boat weighing issues.
DI - Fours Repechage
Brown’s four made quick work of getting back with the rest of their program--in front and into the semis--in this repechage. Michigan and Yale did a good job of putting Michigan State behind them, so there was not much drama for the final spots in the semi for much of this race--at least not until the Harvard four mounted a charge that nearly caught Yale napping, but the Crimson came up just a bit short.
The day ended, as perhaps it should, with a fine rowing tradition: the spare pairs racing. Hoping perhaps for some extra oxygen, or just the style points, the bow of the Ohio State pair raced the course wearing a snorkel.
Cheer of the day: somebody on shore yelled “Happy Birthday Laura” as DI Fours rep finished up, so clearly somebody got the nice present of a spot in tomorrow’s semis.