Tuesday, March 07, 2006

2006 Season Preview - University of Wisconsin

Two national championships in a row do not make a dynasty. Three in a row might. Wisconsin enters the 2006 season looking for its third straight national championship and from the results of the head season, must be considered the favorite. By beating Princeton, Radcliffe, Georgetown, URI, and MIT in Boston, the Badgers proved that they are still the crew to beat come June. Including the coxswain, the Wisconsin boat at Boston held five seniors, four of whom are two-time national champions, one junior, and three sophomores. The boat was stroked by a sophomore transfer from Georgetown. Taken together, this is a lot of bad news for the rest of lightweight rowing.

Wisconsin begins its title defense in mid-March in Texas with the Texas Invitational. I assume this is on the tail end of a spring training trip and I have no idea who will race in it, but it will simply be a tune-up. Life gets serious for the Badgers when they travel to San Diego to race in the Crew Classic where, among others, they’ll meet up with Stanford. After the Crew Classic the Badgers stay on the road and head to New Jersey for the Knecht Cup. After Knecht the schedule lists a home race against Michigan State and Michigan. Both of those crews serve as evidence of the truth of the Football Theorem, so they won’t have lightweights racing that day. Looks to me like Wisconsin feels they need to look to heavyweights for some Midwest competition.

On April 22nd Wisconsin will race at home in the Midwest Sprints where they’ll have the opportunity to slap around some more heavies. A week later it’s back to the East Coast to race Georgetown, followed by Sprints in May and IRAs in June. As a lightweight power in the Midwest, there isn’t a lot of competition nearby and, while there are more interesting schedules around, Wisconsin does its very best to test its lightweights prior to Sprints and IRAs. No question about it, they’ll be ready.

A strong Wisconsin program is great for lightweight rowing. As an exception to the Football Theorem, the Badgers’ program provides hope that one day the theorem will no longer hold. They show other heavyweight-only programs that it is possible to play the Title IX game and still have a successful lightweight crew. But beyond all of that they add a real spark to lightweight rowing. After the 2004 IRA, a coach told me he knew Wisconsin would win the final by the way they put their boat in the water. That boat, by the way, was named “Decerto” (look it up). I remember walking around the school tents at that regatta and being amazed at the Wisconsin spread. First of all, there was a tent specifically for the lightweights with their name across the top. Inside that tent were red and white checked tablecloths, boom boxes playing “On Wisconsin,” and, this is the best, Barbie dolls dressed as Wisconsin cheerleaders! I mean come on, who wouldn’t want to be part of that? This was more like a Wisconsin-Minnesota football game than the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race. I’m all for tradition, but these fans knew how to party. And they didn’t mind cheering a little either. I don’t know about this year, but in the past, when the lightweights raced in the Crew Classic, a band contingent traveled with them and waded into the water to play “On Wisconsin” as the crew neared the finish. This is great stuff! Everyone wants to beat Wisconsin right now, and sooner or later someone reading this will. When that happens, look over at the Badger boat, congratulate them on a hard fought battle, and remember all that they’ve brought to this party. But this year, they’ve got bulls eyes on their backs – it’s time to go Badger hunting!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I religiously read your blog -- my only source of lightweight rowing news!! As a collegiate rower the season previews are especially fun to read...i like to know about the competition. You started with the least competitive to the most competitive and this week ending with the obvious choice of wisconsin however what happened to MIT! Do you not expect MIT to be comptetive this spring? Is MIT not worthy to be even considered one of the top? Maybe I am just jumping the gun and later MIT's season preview shall come...

-an MIT lightweight rower