Perhaps the starkest reminder that rowing is an outdoor sport came from Friday's schedule at the NCAA championships, which saw the start of racing delayed by a full eight hours to allow local organisers to clear debris that had been swept onto the course during a brief but intense rain storm the night before.
Racing at first seemed destined for a brief delay, but as the full amount of debris on the course became apparent, the delay ballooned from two, to four, then finally to eight hours, pushing racing from 8am all the way until 4pm, while all teams took the multiple schedule changes in stride as best they could.
Ironically, for the spectators at the finish line, the reasons for the delay were nearly invisible; scroll down for photos of what the volunteer crew was faced with removing from the course.
The biggest impact of the change to the racing schedule came in the DI racing, which saw repechages eliminated from the progression (DII and DIII kept their progressions the same). With this change, the opening heats turned into true, advance-or-die brawls. Despite the change, there were no huge surprises on the day, with all 12 of the top seeds advancing to the semis.
Three of the four top-seeded varsity eights advanced without incident today, while the Texas 1V raised more than a few eyebrows in posting the fastest time of the day, 6 seats ahead of a seeded Washington crew. The logic of swinging for the fences and getting a big win in the heat would appear to make sense, as the semis draws later in the day would show.
Texas posted the fastest time of the day
The Princeton and Cal 1Vs also each won their heats; the Ohio State Buckeyes got right into the "no reps, straight to semis" spirit in the first DI race of the day, getting their nose ahead of the favored Cal crew, making the Golden Bears work mightily for the win. Princeton did it the opposite way in their heat, rowing to a commanding lead over Brown and Iowa, then taking the win home safely as Brown and Iowa worked their way back into race.
The Stanford 1V was impressive in winning their heat ahead of Michigan and Rutgers, and, while not pushed especially hard, looked commanding, understroking the field by easily 3 beats, and moving away at will.
The Varsity semifinals, never an easy row, will be brutal tomorrow:
Semi 1: Virginia, Iowa, California, Texas, Michigan, Brown
Semi 2: Rutgers, Ohio State, Stanford, Princeton, Washington, Yale
Princeton's V8 won their heat
The removal of the repechages from the progression would seem to have put a great deal more weight on the coin flip that determines which lane assignment scheme is used to determine the semis draw; the top 12 varsities at the regatta are all strong, but the reps might have contributed to an even more balanced pair of semifinals. A few observers commented that the resulting semifinals draw appeared to them somewhat lopsided.
Stanford quietly and confidently won all three heats they were entered in, the only DI team to do so on the day.
Keeping an eye on the final team standings, nine teams advanced all three of their crews to the A/B semifinals: Brown, Cal, Michigan, Ohio State, Princeton, Stanford, Texas, Washington and Yale, with Virginia as a possible 10th team to do, pending a protest of their race in the Varsity Four. UVA was claiming to have been impeded by debris in their heat, in which they finished 4th and out of an advancing position.
The DI seeding committee did their job well; in the 12 DI races on the day, there were only two upsets of seeded crews, the Wisconsin 2V upending Duke, and the Rutgers V4 squeezing into the semis over UVA, although UVA may have encountered an issue with debris in their race, and lodged a protest of the outcome of the race, which was subsequently allowed, and UVA was entered in the 7th lane in the V4 semis.
Western Washington showed D2 speed on Day 1
The 2019 NCAAs may mark a return to the top for Western Washington, who took their heat in the D2 eight with the fastest time of the field. Central Oklahoma, the 2018 NCAA D2 champs, won the other heat, as well as their heat in the fours, ahead of: Western Washington. Those two teams will see a lot of each other for the remainder of the weekend, and it will be interesting to see who blinks first.
Bates, who are just over a month removed from the unfamiliar position of chasing a crew during the regular season, arrived in Indianapolis fit to the day, winning both their 1V and 2V heats in a dominating fashion. They will be hard to beat if they can maintain this form. The early-season DIII pacesetters WPI also sent both of their eights through to tomorrow's finals, as did Wellesley, Hamilton and Wesleyan.
The Bates 1V made short work of their heat
The DIII crews had the roughest turnaround today, with just over three hours between the heats and the reps.
With roughly 19 hours from the start of the heats today until the end of the finals tomorrow, the 2019 NCAA DIII Rowing Championships will go on record as one of the quickest ever, whew.
Notes from the Course
That the course was rowable at all today was due to the hours-long effort of a small army of volunteers, who cleared debris, branches and entire trees from the course, mostly by hand, until a crane arrived early in the afternoon. Regatta volunteers are fairly unsung at most regattas, but the crowd from the Indianapolis Rowing Center, nearby IU and the Indiana Sports Group went above and beyond today.
Debris continued to come down the creek above the course during racing today; delays may be possible again tomorrow.
In addition to the changes of the racing progression, the lanes were also redrawn to place seeded crews into lanes 5 & 6 on the course. There is a stone jetty behind the start that extends from the shore to just past lane 4 on the course, with the flow from the dam that feeds into Eagle Creek Reservoir flowing around the jetty and into lanes 5 and 6. Overhead drone footage of the course showed sediment swirling through the racing lanes.
Today may the first time that racing at a West Coast IRA finished before the racing at an East Coast NCAA Championships.
As a favor to regatta announcers, the NCAA should try to avoid putting "Wellesley" and "Wesleyan" into the same heats.
Marist's trip to Indianapolis involved flight cancellations and rebookings; their 25-hour marathon trek to Indy included a night spent in New York's LaGuardia airport, ow.
Massive cleanup on lanes 1-6 (photo courtesy B. Kramer)