The top DI, II, and III women's rowing teams have descended onto Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis, and are primed for the 22nd NCAA women's rowing championship. The boatyard in Indy was the usual bustle of teams preparing, boats getting their final rigs and checks, and of course, riggers playing croquet.
The bustle doesn't really hide the palpable tension in the air. It's the national championship, and no rowing coach worth their salt would likely admit to being completely sanguine on the day before the racing begins. On the ground in Indianapolis, row2k found coaches in various states of readiness the day before the heats.
(Of course, pre-race nerves are not unique to the NCAAs; the coaches and athletes at the IRAs across the country at Sacramento's Lake Natoma were in the same state on Thursday.)
All coaches were quick to point out that no team was simply 'happy to be there,' as the old cliche might have it. Virtually a year of training has brought the teams to this point, and regardless of whether a team was new to the championship or competing for the umpteenth time, everyone is on their toes.
"I don't think it's ancticipation," said Texas head coach Dave O'Neill. "Anticipation is what you feel on Christmas morning, NCAAs is really different. It's both 'why am I doing this to myself,' and 'I love this.'"
Final shell prep
Other coaches concurred, and noted that the jitters really do last all week. "It ebbs and flows," said Princeton's Lori Dauphiny. "Usually, you're really nervous before the heats, then your crews race and you calm down a little, and then the semis draw comes out and you get really nervous again. Then, for the finals, you do it again."
The unique characteristics of rowing, which requires an extraordinary amount of preparation for a miniscule amount of competition, also plays into it.
"I think it's because rowers really like to train, but don't always necessarily love to race," said O'Neill. "It's the same way with the erg test, you generally do well preparing for them, but that doesn't mean you like to do them. You think, 'I wish I could train for one more week.'"
Some coaches felt they were able to put any nerves and anticipation aside. "Once you get here, the work is done," said Wisconsin's Jim Mitchell. "There's not that much more you can do to get your crews ready when you are at the championship."
Coaches also noted that they needed to keep their own emotions in check, because they know that their own state of being could influence their athletes. "The kids know," said one coach.
As the final crews finished their practice laps and stowed their shells in preparation for Friday's heats, a coach succinctly summed up the scene. "Here we go," he said.
Update, 9am EST, 5/31: due to debris on the course, heats for the NCAA championships have been moved to a Friday afternoon start.
Eagle Creek reservoir