Wednesday, March 23, 2011

NCAA Spring 2011 Preview: The RR Top 20

Defending NCAA Champions University of Virginia will be taking on a very tough schedule this Spring in hopes of defending the program's first ever NCAA team championship. In the first CRCA coaches poll of 2011, which was released last week, Virginia debuted at #1. Although Virginia has very good top end speed in the Varsity 8 on a yearly basis, the hallmark of their program is their depth. Last year they were extremely deep, making the grand final at NCAAs in every event and dominating the Varsity 4+, setting a course record in the process. They simply have more quality depth than any other program in the country. At the South-Central Sprints Regatta in 2010, they won every event except the Novice 8 (which they only lost by 6 one-hundredths of a second) and placed 1st and 2nd in the Open 4+. Credit to the coaching staff/duo of Kevin Sauer and Steve Pritzker who have done a tremendous job developing a perennial powerhouse. One thing is for sure, there must be a lot of intense seat racing and intra-squad competition on the Rivanna Reservoir all Fall and Winter and lasting deep into the Spring. They return only three members of last year's Varsity 8 that got third at the NCAA Championships, but with a great recruiting class and great coaching a repeat as team champions is a definite possibility. We certainly are picking them to win the Varsity 4+ at NCAAs again if nothing else.

Pre-season number two ranked Princeton is our pick to win it all in 2011 as a team as well as in the Varsity 8 after a strong 2010 and a great recruiting class, which includes Kelsey Reelick who recently pulled 6:55.9 for 2k. They return six athletes from last year's Varsity 8 that was undefeated last Spring during the regular season. They had a very successful Fall campaign, winning at the Head of the Charles and the Princeton Chase. Watching them race last Spring, this definitely looked like a determined bunch that will only be better with another year of experience under their belts and the motivation of coming up short last year to drive them. We are sure that after a long winter of hard training, the women of Princeton will be laying down some scorching times on Lake Carnegie this Spring. They will be led by Lauren Wilkinson, Michaela Strand, Molly Hamrick, Nicole Bielawski and Ashton Brown in the Varsity 8. Lori Dauphiny will be poised to lead her team to victory come May.

Pre-season number three ranked Cal should be able to give Princeton and Virginia a run for their money this year although it remains to be seen whether their young talent and women from the 2V last year can step up to fill the big shoes of Iva Obradovic, Shay Seager and the other talented members of the Varsity 8 that graduated in 2010. Cal has one of the most up and coming talents in the country in Sophomore Kara Kohler who was a complete novice as a Freshman last year. In her first year of rowing Kara made Cal's Varsity 8 that won the gold medal at the Pac-10 Championships and finished fourth at the NCAA Championships and more impressively made the 8 that won a gold medal in dominant fashion at the U23 World Championships last Summer. They will also rely on the talent of Mary Jeghers and Elise Etem as well as international oarswomen Kristina Lofman, Papa Hipango, Sam Sartor and Bridget Moran. The Bears are another team with outstanding depth that will allow them to vie for the team title at the NCAA Championships as they have the talent to be in the mix in all three NCAA boat categories.

Pre-season number four ranked Stanford has without a doubt the most top-end speed and talent in the country, boasting two Olympians, Elle Logan (gold medal in Beijing) and Lindsay Meyer (finished 5th in the 4x in Beijing before she had even matriculated to Stanford). Both of these athletes plus Grace Luczak competed for the United States this past Fall at the World Championships in New Zealand. They also have Erika Roddy and Michelle Vezie who medaled at the 2009 U23 World Championships for the United States and Great Britain, respectively. Add to this a Freshman class which features former U.S. Junior National Team gold medalists in the 8, Kristy Wentzel and Rebecca Felix, and you have not only some serious horsepower, but a very experienced group who knows how to race at a very high level. With two Olympians, two senior national team members and a U23 medalist in the Varsity 8, it is difficult to imagine that this boat would lose to anyone in the collegiate ranks. However, they did manage only 5th in the Varsity 8 at last year's NCAA Championships after winning NCAA team title in 2009.

Brown, ranked number five in the preseason coach's poll, will be a bit of a question mark this Spring. We don't expect them to win it all this year, but we think they have the potential to be in the top three as a team at NCAAs. John and Phoebe Murphy are a talented and experienced coaching duo that always seem to get the most out of their athletes. After having a down year in 2010, Brown had a very successful Fall, finishing third and twelfth in the Championship Eight and second in the Championship Four at the Head of the Charles. They will be eager to get the bad taste of 2010 out of their mouths with a strong 2011 campaign.

Sixth ranked Yale will be interesting. They won the Varsity 8 last year and had a solid showing at the Head of the Charles this past Fall. However, they lost some superb talent from last year's Varsity 8, most notably Taylor Ritzel, Tess Gerrand, Alice Henly and Catherine Hart. They too brought in a very strong Freshmen class that may allow them to remain in the mix at the end of the season, but we don't expect them to have nearly the same speed in the Varsity 8 as they did in 2010 as they just don't have the same level of talent, power and experience.

Look for the Pac-10 to again showcase its depth as a conference by sending more teams to the NCAAs than any other conference. They had six out of seven teams invited to NCAAs last year and we see no reason to believe the Pac-10 will not get 5-6 teams to NCAAs again this year. Each of the teams did quite well at the NCAAs last year. Only Oregon State was left out from the Pac-10 in 2010, and they will be doing everything they can to get back to the NCAAs. The Big Ten will be the second deepest conference with at least four teams who we think will be invited to NCAAs: Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State. The Ivy League is definitely the next strongest conference, and although they only sent three teams to the NCAAs last year, we believe they will get a fourth team in this year in addition to Princeton, Brown and Yale. Radcliffe will be looking to make amends for a rare disappointing season in 2010, while Cornell, Columbia and Dartmouth will all be looking to get to the big dance as well. Finally, the ACC will likely get just two teams into the NCAA field with Virginia and Clemson, although it remains to be seen whether first year Clemson Head Coach Robbie Tenenbaum will be able to guide Clemson to the same success it has become accustom to in the last couple of years under former head coach Rich Ruggieri. We think Tennessee and everyone else in the newly formed Conference USA will miss out on NCAAs in 2011.

Based on all of the above, here are our team rankings heading into the 2011 season:

1. Princeton
2. Cal
3. Stanford
4. Virginia
5. Brown
6. Washington
7. Yale
8. Michigan State
9. USC
10. Michigan
11. UCLA
12. Ohio State
13. Washington State
14. Wisconsin
15. Clemson
16. Radcliffe
17. Cornell
18. Dartmouth
19. Minnesota
20. Tennessee

-The RR Editorial Staff

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