Saturday, March 24, 2007

Murphy Cup

Today was gray and cool in Philadelphia as crews boated out for the light four and eight events at the Murphy Cup. First up, at 3pm, was the six boat light four race. Pittsburgh, the favorite in this race, came in with big momentum and equally big expectations. The rest of the field, if they paid attention at all, knew they would be sorely tested. In-town rival, Carnegie Mellon, knew that simply to win local supremacy, they would have to be one of the best light fours in the nation. For the rest of the field, in a quick 7 to 7 and a half minutes (doesn't feel quick, does it?) they'd know where they stood.

Although I didn't actually see any, it was a difficult day for starts, as they were floating and there was a decent current. At least that's what a few complaining coaches said. However the start of the fours would go, it wasn't going to be a big factor in this race. By the time the crews neared the wire at the 700 meter mark, Pitt was clearly in control. They weren't pressed in the latter part of the race and barely put on a sprint, finishing with 5 or 6 lengths open on the rest of the field. Expectations fulfilled. CMU proved it's mettle finishing 14 seconds back in second. One had to wonder if in another year that row would've won it. A good race, but work ahead if they want to catch the Panthers. Placing third, 23 seconds back, was Susquehanna. An unknown quantity before this race, it will now be on a few radar screens. In fourth was Lafayette, 31 seconds back. This is a crew with several novices and although it seems like forever right now, a 30 second gap from a fast crew like Pitt shows some potential. Rounding out the field were Villanova and Sacred Heart, 36 and 43 seconds back respectively.

As one might expect at an early season race, the field was pretty dispersed as crews had varying amounts of water time and boat time. Quite honestly, the scariest thing about this race, was the fact that the Pitt boat was a bit rusty. One thing we know about this boat is that the crew knows how to row, so as they smooth out and get back that HOCR swing, it doesn't bode well for the rest of the lightweight nation. I pray the Pitt boat goes to Knecht healthy and ready to rock and roll, because that looks like their only chance to race the Sprints crews. That race will be critical to understanding how they stand in relation to those schools. Too bad it's not closer to the end of the season. Wonder if the crews could get together and set up a fours challenge race just before IRAs?

With a Bucknell scratch in the light eight (more on that later), Lehigh became the favorite. (I wonder if the Mountain Hawks learned of the scratch at the line, or prior to boating out.) As the boats neared the 750 meter mark, it looked like Lehigh may have had a length on the field, which seemed quite tight at that point. Lehigh kept that length, maybe opening it up a seat, until the finish, as Penn State came on for second. The field was spread evenly with about a length between each position, Temple and Philadelphia taking third and fourth. This was a nice race for Lehigh, as they were able to stay in control ahead of a field battling hard behind them. It was also an impressive showing for Penn State, a crew we missed last spring but who has shown flashes of potential in the past. The Temple boat, it turns out, is half novices, but I think they were close enough to Lehigh to feel good about the speed they can pick up as the season continues. Even in finishing at the back of the field, Philadelphia had a decent row, only a little over 11 seconds off the winning time. This is a very young program and they'll get faster as the season goes on. At the finish, it sounded as if some of the Philadelphia rowers were giving birth, but they'll tighten up as they get more race experience. There was some initial confusion about the results as Bucknell was listed as winning with a Penn State scratch. Turns out some of the boats went down the course with the wrong bow numbers.

The Princeton Freshmen lights made their annual pilgrimage to Philadelphia and raced in the heavyweight freshmen event. Although they weren't able to pull out the win (as they did last year), they finished a strong second, about a length and a half back from the winner Navy, and a length and a half ahead of the rest of the field.

The Bucknell scratch was not surprising as I've now heard from more than one source that they do not intend to row a lightweight eight during the season, but will weigh in rowers on schedule to qualify for IRAs. I'll have a separate post on this, one that I hope will generate some discussion. Despite some strong feelings I have about this practice, I'm not certain they're correct and I'd like to hear what you think. More on this later. First, of course, we need to remove Bucknell from the rankings, which gets Lehigh onto the list.


Anonymous said...

I'm happy to see Bucknell race lightweights later, even if they do not race them now. It would be very easy for the Bucknell staff to say they are only going to race openweight crews and be done with it. I expect that they will show strongly later in the year as lighweights, and whether you keep them on your little poll or not, they should have no probelm being ahead of Lehigh or whatever school you artificially bump up onto the list. There will be more racing available throughout the season if they race as openwieghts, and more competition makes for better races and stronger athletes.

Anonymous said...

I agree.