Thursday, March 31, 2011

San Diego Crew Classic 2011 Preview: RR Picks and Predictions

Crew Classic is here! Spring season officially begins in San Diego, and the weather predictions look just right for another year of great racing in warmer climes. Here are our picks for the premier events in San Diego this weekend, on both the men's and women's sides:

Women's Events: NCAA Teams

The Jessop-Whittier Cup for the Women's Varsity 8 is going to be, by far, the deepest event at this year's Crew Classic. We are picking Cal to win it all after looking very sharp in their opening season victories this past weekend at Redwood Shores. Not only are they very talented and well coached, but they are rowing this season in memory of Jill Costello and had an ESPN film crew following them last weekend to capture Jill's story. Look for their Varsity 8+ shell, 'Beat Lung Cancer' to cross the line first on Sunday.

Stanford will also look to be in the hunt. Although they are loaded with talent in their Varsity 8+, Lindsay Meyer (2008 Olympian) sat out this past weekend's racing at Redwood Shores, so it will be interesting to see whether she will be back in the boat this weekend for the Cardinal. If so, it will give them a huge boost and will allow them to challenge the Cal Bears for the win on Sunday.

USC is another team to look out for as they always have lots of foreign talent in their NCAA boats. Zenon Babraj seems to think they are going to have one of their best years ever this season, but we are skeptical. We expect them to finish third in the Jessop Whittier Cup. They tend to show up at San Diego ready to go fast early having been on the water all Winter long and never seem to gain much speed throughout the season. Although we expect them to row sharply in their brand new Empacher this weekend, we think the top end speed of Cal and Stanford may be a little too hot for the Trojans to handle.

We are picking Washington to finish fourth as Bob Ernst struggles to reach the same success he achieved during his first stint coaching the Husky women in the pre-NCAA era which lacked the depth of the current NCAA landscape. He has been busy loading up on foreign talent and breeding the local Northwest talent to row the Husky way, but we just don't think they are going to have the top end speed in the Varsity 8 to compete with the big dogs.

Washington State and UCLA will be duking it out for the third qualifying spot in the first heat, as will Wisconsin and Oregon State in the other heat.

We are picking the Washington women to win the Second Varsity 8, USC to win the Varsity 4+, and Washington to win the Novice 8. Washington's depth is definitely their strength and we think they will showcase that depth this weekend. Intra-squad competition is a hallmark of the Husky program, and that depth, combined with the fact they are not bringing their Varsity 4, will allow them to win the Novice 8 as well as the 2V.

Men's Events: IRA Teams

The Cal men will be the class of the field in the Copley Cup, the Second Varsity 8 and the Freshman 8. Stanford will be the closest competition, but we just don't see any drama in it. One big question with Stanford will be whether Craig Amerkhanian sticks all-star Freshman Austin Hack in the Varsity 8 as he did with Mark Murphy in 2006. Austin is a huge talent and stroked the Stanford Varsity at the Newport Autumn Rowing Festival in the Fall. Alex Syverson, Dane McFadden and Sebastian Peterlin will lead the Cardinal Varsity against a talented Cal Varsity that will be led by 2008 Dutch Olympian Olivier Siegelaar, veteran Nick Lucey, Spencer Crowley, Samuel Walker, Calum Wright, Goran Todorovic and Chris Yeager. Cal will be looking to make an early statement against not only their Northern California rivals, but also to the UW men who have opted to stay home this weekend to continue training. We expect the Cal men to win the Second Varsity by open water, and we expect the same of their Freshman in a very weak Frosh field.

We will be very interested to see what kind of fire power the Cal Frosh have this year. We think this is a year that the Washington frosh are a bit vulnerable as compared to recent year's in which Washington has held the upper hand with an embarrassment of riches in their frosh ranks. We think this is the year the tide will turn in favor of Cal in the Frosh ranks, so look for them to come out on fire this weekend. Stanford has not entered an 8 into the Frosh event, so it will be interesting to see whether they stick their Frosh in the JV or the Open. Cal has a B entry in the Second Varsity 8 event. We are wondering whether they will stick their top frosh in that event with their second Frosh in the Frosh 8+ event since the Freshmen field is so weak this year.

The close racing in the Copley Cup is going to come between Northeastern, Oregon State and Michigan. We are picking Northeastern to finish third followed by Michigan who we think will have what it takes to defeat Oregon State. We expect Temple to defeat UCSD and Jacksonville to gain the final spot in the Grand Final.

Men's Events: Small Programs/ACRA Teams

In what will be a hotly contested event this year, we are picking Oklahoma City University to win the Cal Cup. They seem to have just too much talent to screw this one up. Led by Freshman stud Matthew Maddamma who finished third in the Junior World Championship 1x in 2010, talented scullers Drew McNichols (6:08.2 erg), Jimmy Von Peters (6:09.4 erg), Edgars Boitmanis (6:13.7 erg) and Jared Hooley (6:15.3) will be making the trip to San Diego to leave their mark on the Cal Cup field. Although they are a Varsity program with a beautiful boathouse, scholarships and great financial support, they seem to have flown under the radar. Their coach Cameron Brown is bringing them to San Diego this year for a reason: they have talent and they want to showcase it. We are picking a strong British Columbia crew to finish second after a strong performance earlier this Spring in which they finished just four seconds behind the Oregon State Varsity 8+. We are picking Notre Dame and Sacramento State to round out the top four, with Orange Coast College and Purdue racing for the second spot in the final in the first heat. USD and Drexel will fight it out for the last Grand Final spot in the third heat. While many have been picking Washington State to have a good year after great success last year, their results from the Fall seem to indicate that the learning curve will be steep this Spring. Of course, they will get the chance to prove us wrong this weekend, as Arthur Ericsson indicates in his upcoming RR Interview.

Junior Teams: Men

The Marin boys will be the class of the field as Graham Willoughby has something very good going out of the Marin boathouse. Marin had a very strong group last year that ended up coming up just short at nationals. That loss has no doubt served as motivation for them this year as they came out guns-blazing in the Fall, winning the Head of the Charles by eight seconds and sending a warning shot for what is to come this Spring. We expect a very good challenge from a strong Everett crew who will be coming down from Washington to show the Southwest region a little speed and preview of what they hope to bring to Nationals later this Spring. We expect Oakland, Los Gatos, Long Beach and Newport to round out the field in that order.

Junior Teams: Women

We are picking Connecticut Boat Club to win the girl's Varsity 8 and Second Varsity 8 again this year, although Marin and Oakland will be close. Connecticut Boat Club is very well coached by newly appointed women's Junior National Team Head Coach Liz Trond and has a bevy of talent, most notably the Grinalds sisters Lucy and Rosie who were both on the Junior National Team last Summer. Although we are picking CBC to win it, expect Marin to make a run at them. marin is loaded with talented and is also very well coached by Sandy Armstrong. The Derek Byrnes coached Oakland Strokes will be looking to get their bow toward the front as well, especially after suffering an early season loss to Marin just a couple weeks ago. Although they will be motivated, we expect them to finish third behind CBC and Marin.

National Team Exhibition Event in Honor of Hart Perry

It will also be very good to see the Men's Senior national team exhibition event on Sunday in which it looks like they will field two eights that will compete against each other. After disappointing results that last two World Championships under Tim McLaren, we have been impressed with the current level and depth of talent in Chula Vista, and will be very interested to see these crews on display on the Mission Bay course.

-The RR Editorial Staff

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