When a coxswain gets ready for a race, they check their cox box, make sure the riggers bolts are tight, talk to their coach about race strategy, and then find a working bilge pump? That’s how the 2013 NCAA championships kicked off early Friday morning. Due to weather concerns, the decision was made that racing would begin on Friday morning at 7am- that was the plan at least, as some pretty nasty weather was predicted to come through the area.
Fast-forward to Friday morning; parents, spectators, and athletes arrived to a closed venue. As folks got out of their cars, the parking volunteer said, “The park has been closed due to weather, please wait in your car.” I guess the weatherman was wrong (shocking) and the unsavory weather decided to show up a little early. After looking at the radar, my first thought was “great, will NCAAs even happen?” Thankfully, the lightning stayed away, and at 8 o’clock, racing kicked off without a hitch – well, a media launch may have nearly sank to the bottom of the lake, but hey, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Conditions varied quite a bit throughout the day; off and on rain, and long, sustained "gusts" - if you can call a 40-second blanket of wind a gust. For the most part, conditions were just fine for rowing –for people from Seattle.
The day kicked off with the DIII Varsity 8+’s. As expected, Williams brought their “A” game. After an early battle with Trinity, Williams was able to generate some separation from the pack and cruise to a fairly comfortable victory. William’s will need to watch out for Bates in the final however. Most “rowing people” know you can never look at times from heats, but Bates was able to post the fastest time of any DIII V8. While far from a certainty, this could be an indication of events that may transpire in tomorrow’s final.
The rain began to dissipate from the complete deluge of the early morning, and a steady shower greeted the Division I events. As it is often the case at NCAAs, surprises were few and far between in the varsity 8 during heats. The top seeds were able to moved on to the A/B semi-finals with little to no drama. The spread between the slowest and fastest DI 8 was nearly a minute. This issue has been at the forefront of the AQ discussion since the beginning. After today's results, the debate will probably continue; in the meantime, some patience will be the best approach as the conferences get a taste of the level they hope to attain in the future.
Perhaps somewhat of a surprise came from the Harvard-Radcliffe women, with an impressive showing in the varsity 8 that sent archrival Yale to reps after taking second place in their heat (behind USC). Only a few weeks ago, Radcliffe finished 3rd at the Ivy League championships, where they trailed second place Yale by 4 seconds. Beating Yale and nipping at the heels of USC, the Crimson seem to be peaking at the right time.
UVA came out with guns blazing as if to tell everyone, we are still here and we don’t plan on going anywhere. While they have had a very successful season, UVA seemed to lack the wow factor that they had last year. Today they seemed to get that wow factor back. I will note however that Washington seemed to come out a little bit slow in the V8 (last in their heat at the 500), but seemed to pick up speed in the second 500 and cruised to a second place finish. That may have been a tactical decision, so don’t count them out in the semis.
The second varsity 8’s and 4’s are where you really get to see the depth of these top programs. USC, Virginia, Washington, Cal, and Ohio State were able to advance all 3 of their boat directly to the a/b semifinals from the heats. USC may have had the most impressive performance of the group by winning all three of their heats (1V, 2V, and 4). Everyone knows they have had a very fast varsity 8+ all season. Today, they were able to display their total team depth and speed. Princeton was able to push USC’s 2V in their heat for a while, but USC cranked it up to take the lead in the last 500 while Princeton seemed content to cruise to a second place finish. This is why predicting future races off of heat results can be next to impossible. The top tier programs have one goal in mind, advance in the heats (not necessarily win) and win a championship. As Coach Teitelbaum of Ohio State put it, “We are pleased to advance directly to A/B semis in all 3 boats, but obviously there are a lot of great teams out there.” Things should really begin to heat up tomorrow as teams start to show their top speed down the entire course.
An interesting moment took place just as the Division II races got underway. The park decided it was an excellent time to test the tornado sirens. After all of the rotten weather earlier in the day, go figure when things started to clear up, a tornado siren would go off (just a test). Lets hope this is not a bad omen for tomorrow.
After the heats for the Division II varsity 8s, it became apparent that the champion for DII would more than likely come from south Florida. Barry (out of Miami) was able win their respective heat, however it was Nova Southeastern (out of Ft. Lauderdale) who came off of the line so fast, the announcer seemed almost dumbfounded. “I don’t know if you can ever call a race at the 500 meter mark, but you may be able to here,” the announcer murmured, or something along those lines. Nova was within a second of Barry at the SSC Championships (3 seconds at Dad Vails, but you can never look at results on that course) so things are shaping up to be a very interesting final.
Due to weather concerns, Friday’s schedule was condensed to one large morning session. Instead of athletes running back to their hotel for a little R&R and some food, racing continued. Fortunately, the rain seemed to subside as the sun came out immediately after the last heat left the blocks, which seemed almost a taunt – but we were spared racing in the massive downpour that arrived immediately after the last rep, so take what you can get.
With this being the first year of the expanded field at NCAAs, the lopsided nature of the DI varsity 8 race became somewhat apparent. Usually once the top boats advance out of heats, reps generate some exciting racing as teams throw everything they have into their last chance to make it to the A/B semis. This year the reps appeared to be a small parade of athletes down the course. This does not mean the reps lacked an element of drama however – albeit possibly due in part to the vagaries of drawing two seven-boat reps from a 24-boat field – which resulted in the first rep of the D1 V8 being tougher, on paper at least, and the racing seemed to bear this out.
As a result, the first rep of the DI varsity 8 may have been the most compelling race of the entire day. Coming into the last 500 Notre Dame, Yale, and Stanford were bow ball to bow ball, with maybe a slight edge to Stanford. As the three crews crossed the 500, Yale surged ahead to take the lead. Stanford was able to push back and re-took the lead with only a few strokes to go. Stanford crossed the line first, followed by Yale, then Notre Dame. The total margin between all 3 crews was a whopping .56 seconds. Fantastic racing by all three boats, way to liven things up!
Reps continued on for the DI events for the most part as expected. It is of note that Oklahoma came just shy of making the A/B Semi finals with their varsity 4+. This is significant because Oklahoma is one of the first timers to NCAAs and a beneficiary of the AQ system. It’s fantastic to see one of the “new teams” go toe to toe with some of the “old guard” and be successful.
All in all, a fairly interesting day of rowing in Indianapolis. There were a lot of fast teams, crazy weather, and bilge pumps (you only thought they were for launches). Get ready for tomorrow! It looks as though the races will start early and will go non-stop. Congratulations to all of the advancing crews and good luck tomorrow. Remember to Keep Calm and
Carry ROW On!