Friday, March 02, 2007

2007 Season Preview - University of Wisconsin

Over the past three years, the Wisconsin Badgers have been masters of the peak. The metaphorical peak, of course, but also the physical peak. In the last three Knecht Cups, they've never finished better than second (2005), yet they've won two of the last three Eastern Sprints and, of course, they've been national champions the last three years in a row. Better than any other crew, it seems, Wisconsin understands that the goal is to win IRAs and the rest of the season exists to serve that goal (well, almost). While undefeated national champions can be awesome, even transcendent, there is nothing quite so exciting as standing at the finish line at Sprints and IRAs wondering if the Badgers will peak at the right time again this year. But now, Wisconsin crossing the line first at the end of the season is no longer a surprise, in fact it's expected. We live in the Age of Wisconsin.

The Badgers begin the defense of their third national championship on April 7th at the Indiana Championships. This race is listed as tentative and while the heavyweights race Indiana and Notre Dame that day, I don't know who the lights might race (Purdue?). Whomever it is, this race will serve as a tuneup for the Knecht Cup which comes a week later. On April 21st Wisconsin beats up on some heavyweight crews on home water at the Midwest Rowing Championships. A week later comes the Best New Race of the Year, which is now expected to be in Indianapolis, against Georgetown, Stanford, and Ohio State. In mid-May are Sprints, followed by IRAs at the end of May.

There is no California trip for the Badgers this year and I'm a bit surprised because I thought they had been alternating the Crew Classic with Windermere. With Windermere and Knecht on the same weekend, they've decided to skip the trip west and head east instead. [Update: See comments for the explanation]

With only three rowers coming back from last year's IRA boat, this year we'll see if the Badgers are rebuilding or reloading. Also new this year is head coach Erik Miller. It's a pretty difficult job taking over a program that just won its third national championship, but the excellent athletes at Wisconsin coupled with the support of the University will help make the transition a smooth one.

In last year's preview I spent some time explaining why I think a strong Wisconsin program is good for lightweight women's rowing. I won't go through it all again, but I will reiterate that "As an exception to the Football Theorem, the Badgers’ program provides hope that one day the theorem will no longer hold." (Football Theorem: the size of a school's women rowers is directly proportional to the prominence of its football program.) Wisconsin has brought a refreshing, Midwestern, Big 10 style to the sport of lightweight women's rowing and has provided a worthy opponent for the rest of the lightweight league (too worthy for many!). The Badgers must like those targets on their backs because they're wearing them again this year. Last year was one of the most exciting years in lightweight women's rowing in a long time, and Wisconsin did their part. I'm sure they'll do it again this year.

And as to the rebuild or reload question - I'd bet on reload.
(Calendar updated)

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wisconsin's spring break did not allow them to attend San Diego this year. Windermere is an invitational regatta, and Wisconsin was not invited.