Collegiate Championship Blog

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Welcome to the 2016 USRowing Collegiate Championship Series Blog & to the May racing season! Dedicated to all things collegiate rowing, remember to check back here each week for important links, up to date information, pictures and more! 

IRA HEAVYWEIGHT PREVIEW

Jun 02, 2016

If the story sounds familiar, it should.

Yale arrives at Mercer Lake having gone undefeated in dual races and fresh off an Eastern Sprints title, and all signs point to the New Haven school wrestling the national championship away from Washington.

Just like last year.

But in 2015, the Bulldogs were shell-shocked in the IRA semifinals, coming out on the wrong side of a photo finish with Harvard and Northeastern. Instead of racing for their first-ever IRA crown, they were relegated to the Petites.

Now is their opportunity to script a different ending.

Three weeks ago on Lake Quinsigamond, Yale backed up its national No. 1 ranking by getting off the line quickly and then holding off assorted challenges to capture the Sprints title. It’s the first time they’ve gone back-to-back at Sprints since 1981-82. They’ve also prevailed over Princeton and Brown in dual competition – the latter victory coming by nearly three lengths – and systematically cleared the field to take the San Diego Classic.

 “I’ve watched it all season long,” said Yale head coach Steve Gladstone, who has 11 IRA titles under his belt from stints at California and Brown. “They’re smart racers and they enjoy what they do. They’re very determined.”

The Bulldogs boat is both seasoned and young. It features just two seniors – coxswain Chris Carothers and captain Hubert Trzybinski – but five others (juniors Nate Goodman, Ollie Wynne-Griffith, and Robert Hurn, and sophomores Paul Jacquot and Sholto Carnegie) have also been part of the team’s success the past two springs. Freshman Charlie Elwes and junior Stephan Riemekasten are the newcomers.

While Yale will need to be wary of its Eastern brethren – 11 of the nation’s 13 top-ranked crews are Sprints schools – the biggest obstacle may be California. The Bears, who placed second here a year ago, arrive after clipping Washington to earn their first Pac-12 title since 2009. Most impressively in that race, they showed composure during a huge Huskies move in the third 500, holding the lead and winning by two seconds.

The rest of the Bears’ spring dossier shows equally impressive results: a sweep of three races at the Stanford Invitational, a Redwood Shores course record (5:27.3) in their dual win over Washington, and a victory over Stanford in the “Big Row.” But the big question is whether Cal has closed the seven-second gap it had in placing behind Yale at the San Diego Classic.

Princeton at least knows it’s in the same stratosphere as Yale. No other crew has crossed the finish line within three seconds of the Bulldogs, yet the Tigers have done it twice – falling by 2.4 seconds at Sprints after being beaten by 2.1 in their dual showdown.

That runner-up performance at Sprints was Princeton’s best there since 2011. And the Tigers are perfect against every crew other than Yale, their most eye-catching result being a 1.5-second win over Harvard, the first time they’ve beaten the Crimson in consecutive years since 1956-57.

But as opposing crews have learned all too often, the road to the IRA Championship goes through Montlake Cut. The University of Washington is, quite simply, collegiate rowing’s 21st-century dynasty, having won the last five IRA titles, the event’s longest streak of dominance since Cornell’s run of six straight crowns back in the, ahem, 19th century. The Huskies have also won nine straight Ten Eyck trophies as the top overall team at IRAs.

While their streak of consecutive Pac-12 titles was finally snapped at six, it was not without a fight. The Huskies trailed by a length deep into the race, but closed the margin to just five seats at the finish line. Earlier in the spring, they slipped past Brown by one second, scored an open-water win over Oregon State, and won the famed Windermere Cup for the 22nd time (topping Stanford and the Russian National Team).

Brown always works its way into the conversation here and must be considered at least an outside threat to take the title. The Bears flashed late speed to grab the bronze medal at Sprints, overtaking Cornell and Harvard in the final strokes and coming within the shadows of victorious Yale.

“It was a big moment for us and culmination of a lot of experience found over the course of the season. We had a lot of tough races and losses, but then figured out how to make things better,” said Brown head coach Paul Cooke.

Harvard is another persistent presence. The Crimson was the main challenger to Yale early on in the Sprints Grand Final, and has shown plenty of grit this spring. Their final four dual races – vs. Brown, Princeton Penn, and Northeastern – were decided by a total of 4.2 seconds, with Harvard coming out on top in three of those contests.

Cornell enjoyed a banner day at Sprints, advancing four of its five boats into the Grands, including the varsity, which beat its No. 6 seed by placing fifth. Boston University, meanwhile, reached the Sprints Grand Final for the fourth straight season and is looking to crack the top race here for the second time in three years.

Northeastern qualified for the IRA Grands last spring and believes it’s found the formula for similar success after taking the Petites title at Sprints. Columbia, Penn, Syracuse, Dartmouth, and Wisconsin – the last Eastern crew to win the IRAs (2008) – placed behind the Huskies in that Petites final. Other IRA qualifiers who raced at Sprints are Navy, which won the Third-Level race, and George Washington. Across the country, Stanford took third and Oregon was fourth at the Pac-12s.

While most fans are familiar with those schools, there’s always some curiosity regarding the lesser-known entrants that fill out the 24-crew field.

Florida Institute of Technology, coached by 1996 Boston University grad Jim Granger, carries the momentum of winning its second straight Dad Vail Championship, beating runner-up Drexel by just under length. Temple placed third.

Santa Clara qualified for IRAs with a wire-to-wire victory at the Western Sprints, and earlier this season claimed its first-ever WIRA championship, nipping Cal-Santa Barbara by a half-second. Oklahoma City, an NAIA school which started its crew program 12 years ago, won last year’s Western Sprints crown and was runner-up this spring. The Stars are making their second straight appearance at IRAs.

Hobart, meanwhile, placed second to Michigan at the National Invitational Rowing Championship. And the Statesmen have all but retired the Liberty League crown, having now won it 11 straight years.

 

—John Veneziano

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