Sunday, April 23, 2006

Of Wind and Water - Georgetown vs. Princeton

They must be living right in Madison this year, because the weather was fine Saturday on Lake Wingra. Instead, the rowing gods took out their frustrations on the East Coast and nowhere did it have a greater impact than on Lake Carnegie in Princeton, NJ.

Georgetown visited Princeton for a dual race on a gray, blustery day that began with relatively smooth water despite the wind, but ended with more wind, rain, and a chop. The frosh eights began the day with a typically dominating performance from Princeton. Sometime, somewhere they'll probably be pressed, but it wasn't Saturday as they won their race by 20 seconds. In similar fashion the Princeton (Rule of) Four (trite, I know, but who can resist?) dominated their race finishing 5 seconds ahead of the Princeton B boat which was 11 seconds ahead of Georgetown.

The V8 race came last and began according to script. Princeton jumped out at the start and steadily took seats on the Hoyas, moving out to an open water lead in the second 500. Then a funny thing happened. Princeton stopped moving. Georgetown started moving. As the boats labored through the third 500, Georgetown began picking up seats. Steadily they moved back until they not only made contact with Princeton, but began adding to the overlap. Princeton had held off a Georgetown charge earlier in the race, but now seemed powerless to do so again. Every rower in the Georgetown boat, every teammate on the shore, every Mom and Dad who made the trip north, had to be wondering, "Is this the day? Is this the Race?"

Princeton had thoughts of their own, and they were different thoughts. "Not this day. Not this race." As the crews worked their way into the last 500 meters, Princeton went into its sprint. Georgetown matched, but the race was over. Princeton began to eat up the water it had so foolishly let Georgetown take back, and gradually opened the margin to the couple of seats open it enjoyed at 750 meters in. Princeton won this race by 5 seconds but if moral victories count for anything, it belonged to Georgetown.

What happened here? At Knecht Princeton beat Georgetown by 18 seconds. Where did those 13 seconds go? Much credit must go to Georgetown. They came prepared and ready to race. They weren't interested in past results or rankings or favorites and underdogs. They were interested in racing. They are faster than they were two weeks ago. They sent a message that the season isn't over and they have more speed to find. And they're finding it.

Princeton probably came into this race overconfident. At Knecht they didn't even see Georgetown because they were trying to catch Radcliffe and trying not to be caught by Wisconsin. They had to look at the results to see how far back the Hoyas were. They were also probably looking past Georgetown to Radcliffe this week. They know now that was a mistake.

There is still more to it, though. Some horses are mudders, and some aren't. The Tigers aren't. Not yet, anyway. This race was Windermere redux. Remember how Princeton was leading Radcliffe until the 1000 meter mark? And remember how Radcliffe rowed through them in the second half? Just like Windermere, the crews felt the full brunt of the wind (a quartering headwind in this case) at about 1000 meters and just like Windermere the Tigers had trouble handling it. There was good news for Princeton, though. On Saturday, they remembered how to sprint. Sprinting also shows that they didn't panic. Watching a boat march relentlessly back on you for the third 500 meters of a race can destroy lesser crews. Princeton didn't let that happen. They refocused and decided they would take control and for 500 meters they handled the wind.

Georgetown now enters Wisconsin Week with some serious momentum. They're racers and clearly they can race with the big girls. Remember how UCF was within a second of the Hoyas at Knecht? Georgetown just told the Golden Knights to think again. At Knecht, Wisconsin was... 5 seconds behind Princeton. I gurantee the Badgers won't take Georgetown lightly, because even before Saturday's race, they remembered what happened two years ago. Meanwhile, judging by Saturday's results, Princeton enters Radcliffe Week as a serious underdog with little chance of a victory. Do you believe that? Neither do I. The alarm clock is ringing and the Tigers won't hit snooze. If you're a wind machine manufacturer, I have a tip for you: Place a call to the Princeton boathouse.


Anonymous said...

to correct misinformation: last year for the georgetown/wisconsin dual, georgetown went to wisconsin to race, but it turned into a scrimmage which wisconsin won. it was the year before, not last year, that georgetown beat wisconsin.

JW Burk said...

That explains why I couldn't find that result last year! And I was so sure it was 2005... Now corrected in the post, thanks.