Fall racing is always unpredictable, and not necessarily indicative of Spring speed. However, there are several collegiate programs who made quite a loud statement in the early going this year. Let's take a look given the results from the main event of the Fall -- the Head of the Charles.
The most dominant program on the men's side this Fall was Harvard. The program at Harvard had two boats in the top ten in the the Lightweight VIII, the Championship VIII, the Club VIII, and the Championship IV. That is truly an impressive showing, and while they couldn't catch the blazing fast Tigers in the Lightweight VIII (who blew away the old course record by 12 seconds, albeit in the best conditions I've ever seen at the Charles), they revealed amazing depth in that event, with two VIIIs finishing 3rd and 4th overall, both in under 14:31. The Harvard Champ VIII managed to beat Cal -- last year's IRA Champion -- and take 2nd place overall, behind what will surely be a contender for the national championship this Spring in Washington's Varsity VIII. The second Harvard VIII in the event took 9th, with the Yale Varsity coming across in 14th place -- it appears Gladstone will have his hands full with Parker's boys this season. In the Club VIII, a further Harvard VIII took first, despite being dressed as firefighters for the race, and yet another entry took third, just behind the JV from Boston University. All of this points toward a very strong Spring season for Harvard, who certainly have the bodies to make a Sprints Champion VIII in their program, if not an IRA Champion -- I don't think we will see the same kind of separation between the two dominant West Coast schools and the rest of the pack that we saw in last year's Varsity VIII Grand Final in New Jersey.
On the women's side, Yale had entries in the top 10 in the Championship VIII, the Championship IV, and the Club VIII. Princeton won the Champ VIII, and had a 6th place Champ IV as well, while Brown managed a 3rd place and a 12th place finish in the Champ VIII, as well as a 2nd place finish in the Champ IV. Virginia also had a great showing, taking 2nd and 8th in the Champ VIII. Look for Yale, Brown, Princeton and Virginia to have very fast Varsity VIIIs come Spring, given the depth across the board from each of these programs. It's never safe to count programs like Cal and Washington out of the mix here either, as East Coast head racing is less of a priority for such West Coast crews. On the whole, it's a pretty familiar looking lineup of schools, though Yale may find itself toppled from the podium this year.
I know it's early, but the Harvard men did an excellent job in defending home waters, and I think that Steve Gladstone is going to have to wait until next year before he can challenge Parker's Crimson for the top slot at Sprints. As far as the IRA Championships go, well, Harvard have a lot to prove before I'll put them on the same level as Cal and Washington, but they have taken the first step. Another very notable Pac-10 team is Stanford, who did not show their hand at the HOCR -- instead, they had athletes abroad in three separate entries representing the US in Karapiro (the victorious VIII, the 4- and the 1x). Look for Stanford to be very strong after they reabsorb these athletes back into the mix. However, the Virginia women showed the same great depth that earned them the team championship last year, and I'll look for them to build on that in the coming Spring with a victory in the Varsity VIII.
Then again, we've got a long way to go until June.