This year's Dad Vail has more light eight and light four entries than in the past several years, with eight and twenty-two respectively. Maybe the early notice of no lightweight events at ECAC helped the entries, but it's nice to see the light eight growing this year.
Looking at the field by heats, the first race off the line is comprised of Ohio State, Buffalo, Long Beach State, and Virginia Tech. Long Beach State heads west as probably the third fastest crew on the West Coast, after Stanford and LMU. If we play the margin game, we see that in previous races LBS was
10 [0.1] seconds behind LMU, who was 18 seconds behind Stanford, giving us reason to say that LBS might be 28  seconds from Stanford. Ohio State was 26 seconds back from Stanford. The makings of a good race? Buffalo, meanwhile, has raced within 30 seconds of Georgetown, while OSU has been within 19 seconds. Virginia Tech, coming off of a MACCC victory, hasn't seen common opponents, so may be able to take some crews by surprise. In this heat, likely the faster of the two, the margin game gives the edge to Ohio State [LBS], but it should be a good race. [Re-Update: I completely messed this one up. A reader pointed out that I picked up an incorrect margin for LBS-LMU, and the right one just didn't register even though I had written about the race. Sorry about that.] [Update: See comment for a comparison I missed here.]
In the second heat, Temple, Lehigh, UMass, and Penn State mix it up. With the addition of UMass, this is the Murphy Cup final. With Lehigh enjoying previous victories over both Temple and Penn State, and UMass with a win over MIT and a 12 second loss to Buffalo (this apparently will not be the crew that lost to Temple), these two crews would appear to be the favorites.
Noticeable by their absence are Duquesne and last year's champ, Dayton. Dayton does have a boat entered in the JV eight, and that may be the lightweights. Or, with a young light eight crew this year, the Flyers may have decided to split up the boat to see what speed they could lend to the heavies. In any case, I think they would have been quite competitive in this race. Duquesne would also have been competitive, but with a strong victory in the four at A-10s, appear to have decided to give local rival Pittsburgh a run for their money.
The light four event at Dad Vail, is perhaps the most significant light four race ever at the Vails. With no four at Sprints, and with Pittsburgh's victory at Knecht, we may essentially have the national championship race this weekend. I say may, because, as one reader noted, a light four event is rumored to be set for IRAs. I don't have much in the way of details about this (it's most likely an exhibition), but I should have more after this weekend.
With 22 entries, there will be boats we haven't seen much of before, so as always, there is a chance that a fast stealth boat emerges. The favorite, of course, must be Pitt, although they won't be without challenge. I'm anxious to see if Lawrence, Duquesne, (who meet each other in the heats) and Georgia, can give the Panthers a run. Both Buffalo and Ohio State, with fast eights, are likely to boat fast fours. Lafayette seems to have been gaining speed through the season, last defeating Lehigh, and they'll be tested right away in their heat. UConn showed speed at Knecht, while Carnegie Mellon is back for another swipe at their cross-town rivals.
So, who might challenge Pitt? Georgia has won SERCs, SIRAs, and John Hunter, and would have to be considered light four champs of the South. Duquesne has won A-10 and MACCC, and has to be seen as having the most momentum coming into the weekend. Of the boats competing in both events, UConn was the closest to Pitt at Knecht, although still 17 seconds back. Ultimately, though, I think Lawrence might be the boat to watch. Lawrence has beaten Georgia, although that was back in March and a lot has happened since then, and has recently defeated Ohio State. This boat hasn't done a whole lot of racing that I'm aware of, but when it has, it's been fast.Just as likely, of course, is a fast unknown. Iona, Toronto, Albany? I know little about them. Purdue has raced a novice four, but that's all I remember. Brock should give some pause; although they didn't have a great HOCR, they are known for fast light fours and a crew that travels from Canada is likely to believe it has a shot.
This Dad Vail should be one of the best in quite a while. With nice fields for both the four and the eight, the category looks strong and the competition is growing.