NCAA Saturday means locking in spots in the grand finals for Division I and Division II teams. The morning was mild, with a slight cross headwind, and a whole lot of nerves in the air. Crews knew exactly what they had to do to put themselves in a good position in the finals. After the opportunity to race against, or watch the competition in the heats, folks had a better idea of where to place their expectations, and what they needed to do to defy the odds.
Racing kicked off with semifinals for the Division I teams – all DI crews raced today, either in the A/B or C/D semifinals. The first races of the morning determined which V8 crews - presumably the fastest boats at the regatta – would be lining up against one another for the first place spot. When it was over, only two teams had put all three crews in the Grand Finals for tomorrow.
Texas continued to show their strength as they locked in a spot in the V8 grand final after battling down the course with Michigan and pulling out their (almost famous) sprint to lock in the third spot behind Cal and Virginia. The second semifinal put Washington, Ohio State, and Stanford in the grand final, for a lineup of crews that will be sure to race a fast and tight final on Sunday.
Despite a slow start in the first semifinal of the 2V8, the Ohio State crew made a serious charge moving from third place at the 500 to winning the race over Washington and Cal. Although Washington State took an early lead in the second semi, Brown moved into first place leaving Yale, Washington State and Stanford to battle for the last two spots in the grand – the three crews finished nearly three dead across; Stanford missed the grands by just a hair.
The V4 semifinals were the final DI races of the day to determine who would have all their crews in the grand finals. With Yale, Ohio State, Princeton, Brown, Virginia, and Washington all qualifying, only two programs placed all three crews in the grand: Ohio State and Washington. Could this be the year that the Huskies take back the national title, or will Ohio State prevail?
"Our goal for this year was to put all three crews in the grand final," said Washington head coach Bob Ernst. "Tomorrow is a bonus day - just come and race as hard as we can and beat as many people as we can. Just because you get all three boats in the final, doesn't mean you're going to get on the podium," he added.
Ernst isn't unaware of the tough competition that UW will line up against tomorrow. California still has a chance to pull off an "Ohio State 2014", per Ohio State winning the national title last year with their V4 in the petite final. Cal's V4 just missed out on the grands, but as we learned last year, the team could still take home a national title if every one of its crews perform at the top of their events.
"It's a familiar situation," said Cal head coach Al Acosta. "At the PAC-12 we went 1-2-3 in the Varsity, JV, and V4, and got another second place in the 3V - if one of those boats finished a place lower we wouldn't have won the PAC-12s. It's the same thing here, we need everyone to place as high as they can."
It's a familiar situation in a familiar place – just a few weeks ago Cal took home the PAC -12 title against Washington on Lake Natoma, and for one member of the Cal team, Natoma is home.
"The first time our varsity coxswain was on this lake was when she was four years old, and then she started coxing in high school for 4 years here and she's been here ever since," Acosta said. "She has Natoma water in her veins."
The DII crews had their repechages later in the morning determining who would take the last few spots in the V8 and V4 races on Sunday. Central Oklahoma, who received their first ever team bid to the NCAA moved both their V4 and V8 crews into the final for a shot at the national title, while Humboldt State moved it's V8 into the grand.
The race schedule has been changed up tomorrow to ensure the fairest conditions for the grand and petite finals for both DI and DII teams. The racing will now start at 8am with all the grand and petite finals occurring earlier in the morning, and the C and D finals occurring later in the morning.
After some great racing today, crews got out of the hot sun and back to their hotels to rest up. Sunday will likely bring some of the more exciting races of their rowing careers.