Close margins? Check. Seeds tossed out the window? Check. Teams with a shot at the 2023 Championship down to a handful, or less? Check.
Welcome to Semi Saturday at NCAAs, which never disappoints, unless of course you are on one of the ten teams that started the day with a chance to launch all your boats into the Grand Finals, but came out on the wrong side of the fastest two and half hours in women’s collegiate rowing each year.
The Stanford 1V set the speed standard today with the top time
In the end, the final number of those teams is four—and it did come down to the final AB semi in the four to get there. Only Princeton, Texas, Stanford, and Yale made it through the gauntlet of the NCAA Semis with all three crews. Washington just missed in that last race on the D1 program, when their four came fourth to UVA, but UW still has the slightest of outside chances tomorrow if their 1V and 2V can pull it off, and the finish order amongst those first four plays into their favor. It has happened before; both Brown and Ohio State have won team championships with a crew in the petites.
The UVA Four, into the Grand over Washington
For Texas, Stanford, and Princeton—who finished in that order last year—it is another year at the front of the hunt. For Yale, it is the first time since 2009 that all three Eli boats will race the Sunday in the Grands, and as Yale coach Will Porter pointed out, getting that trifecta is not easy, even for the deepest teams.
"It's really hard to get three boats in," said Porter. "Folks think, sure just get three boats in, but it's really hard. It takes a lot of luck and takes a lot of skill by those athletes. I'm just super proud of our group today."
Yale's 1V making the Grand
Coincidentally enough, 2009 was also the last time the Cooper hosted the NCAAs, and the champ that year? Stanford, which won their one and only championship so far right here in Cherry Hill.
The racing in the first 1V semi, where Princeton lead wire to wire by about a wire's width over Penn and Texas, was incredibly tight (see the splits here), while Stanford put a--relatively speaking--much bigger margin of some four seconds into the Washington eight that had set the pace on Friday, and third place Yale. Oh, and posted a faster time, as you can see here.
Between that row by the Cardinal's 1V and that resurgent Stanford 2V we tabbed as a keystone of a possible title in Friday's report--which also won its semi today ahead of Cal and the 1 seed Yale--it is clear that the Pac-12 champ is hitting on all cylinders this weekend.
Stanford a full-length (plus) clear in the second 1V semi
Amongst the four lead contenders, only Stanford collected semi wins in both eights, and their four was second to Yale's. Texas was third in the 1V, second in the 2V, and first just in the four. Behind Princeton's 1V win, the Tiger 2V and four advanced in third, and Yale went third in the 1V and 2V, along with that first place four.
Of course, there could be crews and boats that saved a gear for Sunday, but it is hard to see where they could have spared it in racing this tight--these were the kind of races where saving something for tomorrow could put you out of the hunt for an A Final spot altogether.
The Princeton-Penn-Texas semi nearing the finish
How you game plan for the three hard races across the three days of the NCAA format and still come away with your best effort on the last day is a puzzle the coaches spend a lot of time on, so we asked a few to share how they tackle it.
"We approach every crew, every team and to be honest every race course a little differently," said Dave O'Neill, who has won four titles and finished second three times across his years at Texas and Cal. "Of course, there are times where a crew will have to do everything they can in order to advance, and then you hope and pray they can do it again the next day.
"I’ve certainly made some mistakes over the years in handling the intensity and emotions of these three days, and by no means do I have it figured out. Unfortunately, there’s no halftime or timeouts if something is off, so it’s all about being prepared in every way.”
Cal's 2V made the Grand just behind Stanford and ahead of top seed Yale
Yale's Will Porter pointed out that the new format, without the reps, changed some of the calculus:
"The progression changed this year, and that changes the approach to everything, but we say that you need to regulate. The first day, you regulate. The second day, you really have to race, so we just race it out. I don't know that we are fast enough that we could really hold back or not have to sprint [today]. Then on the third day? It's the last one, and this is what we train for. You try to build out your fitness, recovery is huge, and what you do between the races is very important: how you clean the system. We try to do all those things."
Racing kicks off with the C/D Finals in each event, and those races are no less vital as crews battle to improve their team's overall finish, but then the races where the championship's big point getters will battle it out start at 9:24 with the Petite of the Four.
Here are your lane draws for Sunday.
Notes From the Course
All 8 Square - a bunch of the top 1Vs did some showing off on their way to the start, rowing past the gathering race fans in the finish area rowing all 8, on the square. That's a pretty good way to remind folks that you are really, really good at this rowing thing.
Get Yer Wrenches Out - definitely a bit of rigging going on ahead of the finals during the last practice session on Saturday afternoon, and at least one crew swapped the stroke of their varsity eight to someone on the other side. Lineup changes are the kinds of things you noticed when you have pictures of every crew all weekend long, and between that and the re-buttoning of oars and even changes of spread, suffice it to say folks are leaving no stone unturned in the search for that last bit of speed before the season is all over.
No Photos, and No Fishing, Either - as we’ve noted in past years, this regatta is the only one--to include Worlds and the Olympics—-where photographers can't set foot on the start platform to photograph crews...but at least they are consistent: during the Wednesday practice, they shooed away a fisherman who probably uses the dock all the time mid-week between regattas. That part of the story has a happy ending though: forced to fish from shore, he caught a nice sized fish within minutes over by the aligners station, so that's a good spot, for sure.
Sister Acts, Part II - we mentioned two pairs of sisters racing here in Friday's report (and yes, the McGee sisters raced each other in the UVA-Texas fours semi today). We said we'd see if we heard of any others...and now we have a running list!
We have at least one pair in D2, Sophie and Lucy Sandahl, who row cox and bow in the same crew, while in D1 we learned about the two sisters in the Stanford 1V, Luise and Annabelle Bachmann, who raced the in the same heat against the two sisters--and Greek Olympians--in the stern pair of the Ohio State varsity: Anneta and Maria Kyridou. Then the SPU coaches let us know about Central Oklahoma's V8 twins--Faith and Hope Brooks, in the 5 and 6 seats--and that the stroke of the Western Washington Eight, Clarice Ruhlin-Hicks, has a sister in the 7 seat of Gonzaga's D1 V8, Camille Ruhlin-Hicks. The tip-line is open, so message us on Instagram if you know of other sister acts we can add to the list.
The kind of racing we are all here for...