Take the second semi of the Varsity eight, for example, which had 0.729 seconds separating first from fourth, and a mere 0.125 seconds separating second from fourth. All of which times were faster than the winning time of the first heat (although it is important to note that one was a bit less tight).
Then check out the semis of the Second Varsity Eight, which were only about two to three seconds slower despite having been raced only about 25 minutes later in what seemed like identical conditions. There's a reason so many rowers know the old adage that "The semi is the final."
You can see what happened here; meanwhile, Wisconsin put all three crews in the A/B semis for the first time since 2010, and did it in a doubly hard way, in that all three crews went through the reps, and they were racing in the heats with substitutes in both eights after varsity member Gil Cooper was out with an illness for the heats. Cooper was back for the reps, but it meant they went through the morning heats down a crew member, then had to come back in pretty high temperatures to win both eights reps, and place second in the four.
Making the A/B Semis: Wisco on How to Get There on The Day, by Starting the Previous Summer
After the racing, we talked with Wisconsin coach Bebe Bryans about how a crew manages to weather a situation like that, as well as what it takes both at the championships and during the year to get your crews into the critical A/B semis on the brutal and packed first day of racing at the NCAA Championships. Bryans outlined the mix of factors that can come into play when you face a day like Wisco did yesterday. Bryans first cited the very solid season the crew had, culminating in a second place finish at the Big 10 Championship.
"First of all, we had a pretty solid season racing against some good crews, and I think that set us up a little bit differently in that they had more confidence coming in, and I had a lot of confidence in them coming in," she said. "That makes a big difference, I think. As a result, this year we were on the road a lot, pretty much five weeks in a row. And now I think it was definitely worth it to get out here a number of times and race some really good crews.
"Then our goal was to go straight to the semis, to try and race up and miss the reps," she said. "We focused on that a lot, and maybe we focused on it too much because they really didn't race very well in the heats."
I noted that the illnesses in the heats had to be a factor as well.
"That didn't help for sure," she agreed. "One of our kids was out of the Varsity 8, and we've got really good depth this year and I think we were able to definitely move people up, but on race day, when you've got a crew that's not super seasoned, that's not the best possible scenario.
"So we raced the heats, and didn't race that well, and they weren't happy with it," she continued. "We didn't know if we were going to get Gil back, so we acted as if we would not, so we said 'Get back to what you do best. Race inside your gunnels. It doesn't matter who you're up against. You're going to do your race your way the best that you can and have fun doing it.' And then it turned out we did get Gil back, so it was sort of a double bonus. So that was how we handled that, and we won two out of the three reps."
But the prep for being able to handle something like this starts a lot earlier, and for Wisco it started last summer when a couple photos went up on the wall.
"We have a great, big poster up in our erg room, which, of course, we spend quite a bit of time in," Bryans said with a laugh. "One of them is of the finish of the rep of the varsity last year where we lost by a bow ball. We needed one more stroke, but that put us in the C final, which was a turning point for us.
"The other was the finish of the 2V in the petite final last year, where we lost by a bow ball to Texas on the last stroke. That that went up over the summer, and we put a sign on it that said 'Every stroke matters,' and that's been our mantra all year. Whether it's in a race or in practice or on the erg or, you know, even out running, everything we do matters.
"We set some really good, strong performance goals for them, but it was really more the way they attacked the work, as opposed to what the work really was."
Bryans credits the current team leadership with actually doing something with those lessons
"Those were both great learning moments that this crew was able to carry over to this year and take forward. We sometimes talk about improving, but this crew actually did something about it. We had great leadership this year."
Division II held their reps today, with Central Oklahoma and Humboldt State advancing in the eights, and Western Washington advancing in the fours; as a result, Barry, Central Oklahoma, and Western Washington all have crews in both Grand Finals, and will likely vie for the overall championship.
Notes from the course:
The coxswain started gesturing strongly toward the referees – motions that her coaches interpreted as celebrations – and the refs motored over, asked if the crew was okay, and then asked the inevitable question: do you have your weight?
The crew then bolted toward the beach, where several ways to address the problem were discussed, including enlisting the on-site scuba teams to go dive for the bag of sand as proof, a notion the coach admitted to me was a bit far-fetched; "How are you going to find a bag of sand with a little zip tie on the bottom of a lake?"
As this was being deliberated, however, their sports information person noted that they had a video of the finish, and it turned out they had zoomed in pretty close on the crew. The problem was that the weight had fallen out of the starboard side of the boat, away from the shore – but when they played back the video in slow motion, there was the evidence: the coxswain leaps up, something seems to be in her lap, and then there is a splash off the right side of the boat.
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