Boom! Eights cranking five, six or even seven boats wide at Sarasota's Benderson Park served notice that, at last, NCAA rowing was back. Under clear skies and with great conditions on the water (oh hey, IRA), racing was fast and furious.
The top two seeded teams, Texas and Washington, took care of business today, sending all three of their boats (1V, 2V and V4+) directly through to tomorrow's semifinals. The other five teams to advance their full fleets out of the morning racing were Brown, Michigan, Ohio State, Stanford, and Virginia.
UW 1V coxswain Nina Castagna
Results-wise, Washington showed the fastest times of the morning, in the varsity eight and the varsity four, and posted the second fastest in the 2V eight (Stanford posted the fastest time there). In other words, Washington did not race as the number two seeded team at the regatta, which is where they were ranked going into today, behind Texas.
"I don't think Texas should be considered the favorite," said Texas coach Dave O'Neill after the racing. "We are certainly in the hunt, but it's clear there's a mighty big challenge ahead of us. We definitely stay focused on the things we can control, so we truly don't feel anything different."
Top-seeded Texas took care of business
"There's some terrific speed at the top end of the field, and a number of crews in all three boat categories were impressive. If there's the slightest of tailwind in the days ahead, there will be some very fast times."
As far as setting up his team for the championship weekend, O'Neill was succint. "The NCAA Championship can be a real grind, with some tough racing three days in a row. It feels good to have accomplished what we needed to do on day one. This was the first NCAA Championship race for much of our team, and I'm really impressed with how everyone handled everything."
The Brown women were large as an at-large
Perhaps the most impressive performance of the morning racing came from Brown. Racing as an at-large bid due to their limited racing schedule this spring, Brown qualified all three of their crews directly for the semifinals, racing with their customary aggressive, high-rating style.
"We are here now because of the work this team did over the past year, on their own, in their basements, in their garages or wherever they could find equipment," said Brown women's head coach John Murphy. "When we got on the water in mid March it was obvious that this championship was their goal. We want to thank all of the schools in our area who made room for us in their schedules and gave us the chance to qualify."
The University of Central Oklahoma, defending DII champs, left no doubt of their intentions at this year's NCAAs, winning their opening heats in the V8 by 40 seconds, and in the V4 by 35.
"Things went well for us today, we are happy to be progressing through to the finals and I'm thrilled with how both of our boats responded to some tough racing in the first part of the races today," said UCO second year head coach Brian Ebke. "We're excited to get some practice strokes in tomorrow and get ready to be even better for the final 2k of the year."
Central Oklahoma 1V eight
Ebke, who took on the UCO job in 2019, before the onset of the pandemic, didn't feel any extra pressure as the new coach of the defending champs.
"I don't really feel any extra pressure, but there's certainly plenty of excitement because of the year we've had and the speed we've been starting to show over the last 2 months," he said. "We have a really special group of seniors and it's been fun to watch them help take this team to another level."
The women of Bates picked up right where they left off, winning their heats in the 1V and 2V eights and posting the fastest times of the day for each event; normal service, as they say, has been resumed.
Bates was ready to go
Joining Bates in each of the four-boat grand finals are Ithaca, Wesleyan and Hamilton; these four teams will determine this year's NCAA Division III champion. While the Bates 1V has not been beaten this year, Hamilton has taken down the Bates 2V twice this year (although not today, as Bates beat them in their heat), so there may yet be a surprise.
"It felt really good to get this win (over Hamilton) because we've been working hard all year to get this result," said Bates rower Emma York. "We started a little more conservatively this time and it paid off in the middle of the course where we really established ourselves in the race."
The DIII teams have the quickest turnaround at the regatta, with the Grands and Petite Finals running tomorrow morning, starting at 11am.
The Bates 1V posted the fastest DIII time on the day