Saturday in Indy was filled with sunshine, super fans, and some crazy fast racing. Today's racing determined grand final fields for all DI and DII events, and they will be very fast, close, exciting races—that we can pretty confidently guarantee.
The day began with a 15 minute delay due to "lots of small pieces of wood" on the course, and especially in light of two run-ins with debris yesterday, officials were very alert to any floating objects--including geese. There was also a brief "water foul delay" mid-morning when officials chased some geese and ducks who wanted a good view of the racing. While all were waiting for the racing to start, a band of three kids—a bagpiper and his drummers - graced the awards stage and played a few tunes that gave everyone a good chuckle early in the day. The boys got their biggest round of applause as they left playing the Notre Dame fight song; the Fighting Irish were racing soon and their fans appreciated the shout-out.
Semis day is always tough at NCAAs, especially in the V8, but today was a bit ridiculous. There may have been one other NCAA Championship in which we saw the parity found this year in the V8, and the semis played out in a way rarely seen before. The first semi was a brawl enough, with only Ohio State pushing themselves out of threat of grand final elimination with the fastest time of the day (and a talented UVA boat falling on the sword to take fourth), but the second semi was nuts, with never more than 4-5 seats separating the top four crews. When they finally got close to the line, it was four across for what seemed forever, and when they crossed, it was only the surge of the bows that separated the crews, with 0.023 seconds from first to fourth. When the photo finish review was done, Stanford had won it followed by Brown, and it came down to 0.02 second between third-place Michigan and fourth-place Princeton, who fell on the wrong side of the tiny bubble. Between the two semis, with Ohio State at 6:28, then five crews at 6:30, then Washington at 6:32, really any of those crews could medal or even win.
That said, time and again the Ohio State crew has raced from the middle of the pack to the front of the pack this weekend, and come Sundays finals the smart race plan attracts the smart money, no doubt. Last year The Ohio State U. won the team title without winning the V8; they may be on a little different trajectory this year - though again, with crews that closely packed, any one of them could win it.
Three teams raced their way into the grand final for the 1V, 2V and V4—Brown, Cal and Stanford – which would make them the clear favorites for the team trophy podium. Other teams do still have a shot at the team title even without all three grand finals (for example, if Ohio State wins both eights, and the petite in the four, they have a shot), but given the level of racing we saw today, just making all the grands is a step in the right direction.
"We prepared for the NCAAs knowing it was going to be tight racing through the heats, semis and finals," said Stanford coach Yaz Farooq. "We're grateful to be in the final, we're anticipating that there will be photo finishes tomorrow as well. We'll take a closer look at today's races and see what we can strengthen, and throw down our best tomorrow."
"Having all three boats in the grand finals, we're really encouraged," said Cal coach Sarah Puddicombe. "Since Pac-12s we've done a lot of focusing on ourselves, and it's nice to see that improvements have put us into contention to have a great day tomorrow. It's going to be hard, but we're excited for the challenge."
The Division II reps were also held today, adding Barry and Western Washington to the 8's field, and Humboldt State to the 4's race.
Racing was done early today, and most teams left the course pretty quickly to get the rest necessary for tomorrow's finals. We'll be reporting back tomorrow with the final standings from the 2014 NCAA Championships.