Monday, October 31, 2005

And Furthermore...

The biggest eight days of the fall rowing season have just concluded, yielding some answers (yes, Wisconsin is fast again), but leaving more questions (what happened to Radcliffe at the Chase?). The lightweight eight event at the Head of the Charles did what it could to sort out the field, leaving things in the fall looking much as they did last spring. The Princeton Chase followed to make sure that no one just got lucky in Boston.

At first glance, it looks like Radcliffe may have gotten lucky a week ago. Radcliffe finished about ten seconds behind Princeton in Boston, but about 50 seconds behind the Tigers and nine seconds behind Georgetown at the Chase. I doubt it was good luck in Boston though, more like bad luck (or a different crew) in Princeton. Radcliffe was rowing in traffic as they went under the bridge, so they could have easily gotten tangled up somewhere along the course. In any case, don'’t count on a slow Radcliffe in the spring. Georgetown had a credible row at the Chase and with a new coach on board will be raring to go come spring.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin raced at the Head of the Iowa, finishing 6th in the Open 8 event and finishing in the top ten of several other heavyweight events. It's never clear what these kind of results mean for lightweights, but we already know Wisconsin is fast.

Stanford, meanwhile, has chosen to stay on the west coast this fall, leaving the extent of their speed to the imagination. Racing in the Head of the American last weekend, they finished 14th out of 17 in the Open 8 event. Again, it's hard to know just what that means.

One last word about the Princeton Chase - this is one of the finest regattas of the fall, and certainly the finest for collegiate rowing. Some of the best collegiate programs in the nation show up to race over a beautiful course without the distraction of juniors, masters, or clubs. It's just school vs. school with most rowers racing twice and seniors often getting a last chance to row together as a class. It really doesn't get much better than this unless, of course, the lightweight field could deepen enough to warrant a separate event for the women. Meanwhile, in two weeks the freshmen do it - get ready for the Belly!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

First Shots Are Fired!

The first shots of the 2006 spring season were fired at the Head of the Charles Regatta last weekend. Once again, Wisconsin and Princeton were the top contenders, with the Badgers besting the Tigers in the lightweight eight by 14 seconds. Radcliffe was another 11 seconds back with Georgetown another 20 seconds away. If looks count for anything (and they don't), Wisco and Radcliffe take the honors, as both boats looked smooth and controlled about 500 meters from the finish.

Just entering an eight was a victory of sorts for Radcliffe as they had trouble scraping together eight varsity rowers last year and only entered the four (which they won, by the way). In one of those ridiculously titled articles (Harvard Dominates Head of Charles Regatta - uhh, Princeton, hello?) in the Crimson, the Radcliffe lights talk about the depth of the team this year. Is this a sign that Radcliffe will challenge Wisconsin and Princeton in the spring? Stanford didn't come east this year, so that program remains a mystery for the time being.

In the fours, Princeton came out on top of the American collegiate crews, beating Cal, CMU, Villanova, Radcliffe (which suffered a 1 minute penalty), and Fairfield. Perhaps this suggests that Princeton has some closely matched rowers and some hard spring seat racing will really draw out the boat speed.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

URI Makes Lightweights Permanent

URI head coach Julia Chilicki-Beasley said recently, "With the appointment of Tina Paniel as our new lightweight coach this season, we intend to make the lightweight program a permanent fixture now that there is ample coaching staff for the program." Good news for the program that had a boat finish 5th at IRAs in 2004.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Head Of The Charles Preview

It's almost the Head of the Charles and the lightweight fours and eights events will be the first real opportunity for many crews to show what they have. Last year Radcliffe won the fours over a strong Undine entry (there was a protest involved here somewhere, but I forget exactly what it was about). Radcliffe didn't enter an eight so the four was probably their strongest rowers, and proved it with the win. This year Radcliffe starts first, Brock University starts 3rd, and Princeton starts 5th. Minnesota, Carnegie Mellon, McGill, MIT, Victoria, Cal, Fairfield, Villanova, and NC State are also racing. Radcliffe has an eight entered this year, as does Princeton, which will dilute the strength of the fours a bit.

In the eights, Princeton is the first college team over the line, starting 2nd. Radcliffe follows 4th, and Wisconsin starts 6th. Hoya Boat Club (Georgetown, I presume) starts 8th. MIT, British Columbia, and URI are also racing. This should be a great race, with Wisco's presence (they didn't race last year) adding some spice. With the London Training Center and Radcliffe starting ahead of them, I don't think Wisco will have to thread through many slow crews, so their starting position shouldn't hurt them too much. It's good to see URI back in the mix. They made the final at IRAs a few years ago and we'll see how they are progressing this fall. This should be a great race with another chance for these crews to go at it at the Princeton Chase a week later.

There are no freshmen lightweight events but you can bet that some of the youth boats will have lightweights in them. We just won't know which ones so we can't get any early intelligence about the freshmen.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Talk About Spin!

Women's crew dominates varsity eight in Head of Rock Regatta

Team controls Head of the Rock

These are two headlines are for two different teams that competed in the Head of the Rock (see previous post). The first is from the Wisconsin student newspaper while the second is from the Notre Dame student paper. This kind of spin happens all the time. As I see it, ND didn't win a race, yet this headline would have you believe they "controlled" the regatta. Granted, they may have had a good result for what they set out to do, but the only controlling was done by Wisconsin. Are these reporters and PR people so unfamiliar with rowing that they can't recognize first place from third place? Do you have to be familiar with rowing to understand that difference? If ND loses a football game by seven points, can they nonetheless claim to have controlled the game? This is silly.

And another thing, what is with all of this emphasis on "team" wins? Am I alone in this or is the only thing anyone really cares about is how individual boats do? If none of your boats win a race, but you still win the points trophy, are you happy? I'm not. I love to read stories that tell how a particular team "won" a dual race because their novice 8, novice 4, and 2nd varsity won, while "only" the varsity 8 and varsity 4 lost. Yes, I've seen this kind of reporting. Can't we just report wins and losses and stop trying to spin everything? Yes, particularly in the fall and early spring coaches try even boats and other combinations, but then just say that, don't let the reporter imply something that didn't happen.

Wisconsin Continues to Cruise

Wisco raced at the Head of the Rock last weekend and the lightweights continued to show their speed. Two results of particular note - lightweights won the open pair (over several Wisco heavyweight pairs) and the lightweight 8+ finished 5th in the Open Women's 8+, losing to the Wisconsin (2), Minnesota, and Notre Dame heavyweight eights. The lights were only 15 seconds behind ND's 8+ and only 10 seconds behind Wisconsin's 2nd eight. Notably, the lights beat Notre Dame's and Minnesota's 2nd eights.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

More Lightweights in Action

The Textile River Regatta ran a lightweight eights event which saw MIT, CRI, and UMass compete. MIT has a history of lightweight rowing, but I don't remember UMass boating lightweights recently. I wonder if this is a boat of convenience or if they are starting a lightweight team. Meanwhile, at the Head of the Housatonic, Holy Cross raced a lightweight four. There was talk about Holy Cross developing a lightweight program a year or two ago, but it seemed to die after the departure of one of their coaches. Maybe they're back. They also had a lightweight 8 entered in the Textile, but scratched. Maybe we'll see it come together in later races. Unfortunately there was only one lightweight four entry at the Housatonic, just as there was only one lightweight 8 entry in Tulsa's race at the Head of the Oklahoma (although there was a scratch).

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Why Aren't There More Lightweight Programs?

This is the key question for lightweight women's rowing and a question to which many answers are given. Over the next several weeks, I'd like to start a discussion about these answers.

A few years ago I asked this question of the head women's coach of an Ivy League rowing program that does not have lightweights. She offered three reasons for a heavyweight only program, the first being that lightweights would require a separate coach and a separate racing schedule. Essentially, this is a "lack of resources" argument.

The lack of resources argument can be made against any non-profit earning sport (which is all but a very, very few) and requires you to make an argument that the sport is valuable. I'm going to short-cut that requirement by limiting my argument to those schools with heavyweight rowing programs. This allows me to point out the obvious fact that by the existence of those programs, the schools have already recognized the value of rowing as a sport. I'm even willing to further limit my discussion to those schools with men's lightweight programs, which means they have also recognized the value of lightweight rowing. The task, then, becomes one of showing the value of lightweight women's rowing. The obvious path is to simply point out that in this enlightened age, what is good for men is good for women (as far as athletics go), but I'll leave that aside for now.

First, let me address an argument I hear against lightweight rowing in general. Let's call this the "Midget Basketball League" argument, or MBL. This argument states that having lightweight rowing is like having a basketball league for short people. We find that silly, so why do we have lightweight rowing? The obvious answer to that argument is that rowing is a strength sport, and all strength sports have weight classes - weightlifting, wrestling, boxing, etc. This isn't to suggest that strength isn't required in other sports, only that in those other sports the variety of positions allows for smaller stature players to excel. In football, a small guy is useless on the offensive line, but can be quite successful as a tailback or defensive back. A short basketball center is doomed, but a short guard can be a star. In rowing, everyone plays the same position, like weightlifting and wrestling, and strength is important.

Now, let's look at the purpose of athletics at an institution of higher learning. It is, simply, to educate. To educate its student-athletes about dedication, determination, motivation, and desire. About hard work and about sportsmanship. Ultimatey, about winning and losing and about life. There must also be an attempt to educate as many students as possible in this manner. This does not mean that all students get to be on a varsity team, for that would teach false lessons. It does mean that more legitimate sports are better than fewer, and that women should have opportunities similar to men.

When it comes to this kind of education, it seems to me that lightweights fulfill the objective even better than heavyweights. We've all seen big heavyweights with a poor work ethic and short on motivation who nonetheless end up with college scholarships. Their size may very well carry them through four years of collegiate rowing as well. At recruiting time, heavyweight coaches are on an annual scavenger hunt, searching for those unusually large girls they believe can sit in the middle of an eight and yank on an oar. Not so with lightweights. A lightweight is a dedicated hard worker or she doesn't row. She can't take off for a stroke because the similar sized competition is always clawing at her stern. When a lightweight crosses the finish line in first place, she isn't thanking mom and dad for giving her their "big" genes, she's thanking her teammates for putting in the long, arduous hours at practice just as she did, which allowed her boat to beat her competition, which is exactly the same size. There are no shortcuts in lightweight rowing - not for the rowers or the coaches.

The mean height of a 19 year old woman is just over 5 feet 4 inches. If that woman's Body Mass Index is 22, right in the middle of the "normal" range, she weighs 128 pounds. She's a lightweight. Even at 5" 6' and 130 pounds a woman's BMI is 21, well within the normal range. So, the average normal weight woman is a lightweight, which means that there are a lot more lightweights in the college population than heavyweights. Boating a lightweight crew would not only give more women a chance to row, it would also create a more competitive program since there are so many more potential lightweight rowers.

Finally, below the top four or five lightweight crews, chaos reigns. By that I mean that each year another crew is likely to emerge in the grand final at IRAs. The field is wide open. Even among the top crews, new powers are emerging. If a school's goal is to provide a lot of women with a varsity sport, and have an opportunity to win a national championship sooner rather than later, why would it overlook lightweights?

Why have women's lightweight rowing?
- Creates an opportunity for more women to compete than other sports
- The large available pool of potential rowers creates a more competitive program
- All competitors are the same size forcing successful lightweights to be dedicated, intense, and technically proficient
- The lightweight field is wide open offering new programs an early opportunity to make an impact.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Wisconsin Builds On Lightweight's Success

The reigning national champion Wisconsin lightweights are setting the standard for excellence in the new Porter boathouse. The heavyweight women, who have their own tradition of strong, fast crews, are looking at the lightweights as an example of where they want to be. Head Coach Bebe Bryans said, "The open weights are hoping to join the lightweights who have set the standard for what can come out of this boathouse." The Wisco lightweights are ten years old this year and it's great to see them get some recognition within their own boathouse. With or without graduating rowers, Wisconsin will undoubtedly be fast again this year. The interesting thing about this team is that they always come on strong at the end. Probably this is because of their late start on the water, but early races are only a taste of where they'll be later in the season.