Monday, May 29, 2006

IRA National Championship Regatta

As we look ahead to IRAs this weekend, we can only wonder what has been going on in twelve boathouses around the country. Who has made changes to their lineup, who has been seat racing, who has switched oars, who has found more speed? Men’s Sprints have come and gone, NCAAs have come and gone, and all has been quiet on the lightweight front. With school over, the crews have become full time athletes. Now is when coaches look for that last bit of speed because after Saturday, there is no tomorrow.

There are several champions racing this weekend – UCF won the Pacific Coast Rowing Championships, Dayton won the Dad Vail, URI won the ECAC Metro, and Wisconsin won Sprints – but on Saturday we’ll crown the National Champion. Some of these boats have seen each other a lot this season and, with the exception of a light-switch Princeton boat, the upper end seedings will be much the same as we might have predicted at the outset. This does not mean it’s been a predictable season, however. Wisconsin was further back than usual at Knecht, UCF and Georgetown are even faster than expected, and Princeton is suddenly vulnerable. Stanford hasn’t traveled East and so is relatively unknown, while Bucknell hasn’t raced lightweight much and is even more of a mystery.

Wisconsin enters as the favorite to win its third National Championship in a row. To do so would be quite an accomplishment because each year the field gets faster and faster. As the Badgers continue to roll, one is left to wonder if in a sport so dependent on walk-ons, schools of a few thousand students can continue to compete with a school with tens of thousands. Layer on top of that athlete pool an outstanding program and one is left to wonder if it will ever end. Of course Radcliffe, who is pretty tired of the color bronze, plans to end it this year. Radcliffe enters as the favorite for silver and the crew that stands to have the best chance of catching Wisconsin. IRAs will be the Radcliffe-Wisconsin rubber match, as each crew has beaten the other once. Radcliffe thinks this is their year, and they may be right. Georgetown comes to New Jersey in the new position of bronze favorite. They’ve spent their season racing the fastest lightweight crews they could find, and it paid off in Hoya speed. This is Georgetown’s best recent chance to medal.

It’s hard to say much about Princeton because we don’t know which boat will show up. If the Sprints boat shows up, the Tigers will be battling in the petites. If the Radcliffe dual boat comes, they’ll take a shot at Wisconsin. If you think a 16 second loss at Sprints is too much to overcome, I have a number for you – 2004. In 2004 Wisconsin lost Sprints to Radcliffe by 3 seconds. At IRAs Wisconsin beat Radcliffe by 13 seconds (Princeton snuck in for the silver). That’s a pickup between the two regattas of, yes, 16 seconds. Hot on the Tigers’ tail will be UCF, which only lost to Georgetown at Knecht by 1 second. Theoretically that makes them faster than Princeton and gives them an argument for the fourth seed. Coming after the Golden Knights will be Stanford, making their first appearance on the East coast, and looking for revenge after the PCRCs. Bucknell enters the fray hoping to upset everyone’s apple cart. Bucknell will be very fast and should be favored for the grand final at least. The Bisons should give UCF and the rest of the field a hard run.

I expect to see those crews in the grand final, although I think one or two of them could be knocked out. In particular, Stanford looks vulnerable this year, and Dayton, OSU, and URI have shown some speed. Lehigh needs to pick up some speed from Dad Vail and I don’t think MIT has had the eight racing quite as much as the rest of the field. They’re both capable of making some noise, however.

The 2006 season has shown just how competitive women’s lightweight rowing has become. Yes, the slower boats in the IRA field will be pretty far behind the winner, but the days when three programs ruled the water are coming to an end. It seems as though each season we see another school emerge from the shadows after it made a decision to focus on lightweight rowing. The season long storylines of dominance and challenge, revenge and redemption, continue right up to the end. From the Dad Vail fours to the Eastern Sprints, the season has been unpredictable, and there’s no reason why it should stop now. Unlike the heavyweights, where one boat bulldozed the country all season, the number one lightweight ranking changed hands three times. The National Championship is still up for grabs - until Saturday at about 2:34pm.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

heats are up on row2k