This year's Southern Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championship Regatta boasted one of the deepest men's fields in recent memory, which made for a very exciting weekend, filled with intense racing despite the storms and less-than-ideal weather that delayed racing at times.
In the Varsity 8 things got started with a bang, with crews fighting to secure the top spots in Saturday afternoon's semifinals. All the top seeds advanced with relative ease in the first three heats. The fourth heat had the most drama as a feisty Notre Dame crew put the pressure on GWU all the way down the course and fought valiantly for the win hoping to secure an easier semifinal, but came up just 0.3 seconds short at the line. The semifinals were filled with very competitive racing in a two-to-advance format. Delaware was the biggest loser in the semis missing out on the final by just less than a second and were only 1.1 seconds away from semi winner Virginia. We were very impressed by Delaware who have looked very strong all season and we expect them to be a factor at the Dad Vail next month. FIT, GWU, Temple and Jacksonville rounded out the other spots in the final, relegating St. Joseph and Notre Dame to the B final.
With the grand final on Sunday afternoon came a very high level of racing, which did not disappoint those in attendance. FIT displayed their preparedness for this race winning in fairly dominant fashion -- this marks the third straight year that the Panthers have won the event. They were clearly the sharpest crew this weekend, but we don't see them performing quite as well next month at the Dad Vail relative to the competition. They will struggle to hold onto their speed as everyone else catches up. Temple also flexed their muscles, picking up the silver medal three seconds behind FIT, but we think they were a little tired just a week after winning the Knecht Cup. As we expected, three tough races in two days a week after the Knecht Cup was too much for them to handle and took a little bit of the pop from their legs in the second thousand in Sunday's final. Virginia, under the guidance of Head Coach Frank Biller, closed out a very impressive weekend with a third place finish, just one second behind Temple. GWU surpassed expectations and finished fourth, while Jacksonville could not hang with the big dogs, finishing fifth, and less than a length ahead of UCSD, who let the pressure get to them when they suffered an overhead crab in the first half of the race.
UCSD clearly has speed and will have something to prove the rest of the season after their mishap in the final. Zach Johnson has done a great job building that program, as the Tritons have gotten consistently quicker and deeper with each season since he began his coaching tenure there, having posted their best finish ever at the 2011 San Diego Crew Classic just over two weeks ago. Expect them to dominate the WIRA regatta (two weeks away) in the Varsity 8, 2V, and Frosh categories and take a full head of steam into the IRA, where they'll be looking to upset some traditional powerhouses. Also worthy of mention is Temple Head Coach Gavin White, who has brought the program back to a high level, with the result from SIRAs marking a second straight week of success for the Owls. They battled well through some very tough racing to find themselves on the podium, and not far off a better-rested FIT squad.
Virginia showed they were just a little better than UCSD in the 2V final, squeaking out a one second victory. The Cavaliers also came out on top in the Novice 8, beating a very good and experienced crew from UCSD by 0.15 seconds. This weekend's racing was very valuable for the Virginia novice squad, and will help them immensely in future racing. We won't be surprised if they finish the season undefeated. The Virginia Second Novice 8 won over the weekend as well.
We are most excited (though not surprised) by what Virginia did this weekend as a team, winning three events (and taking home the team points trophy), and we cannot wait for the showdown between UVA and Michigan at the ACRA Championships in late May, which will be well worth watching, as we've discussed before on RR. We expect Virginia to put an end to Michigan's dominance and let them know they have a little competition in the ACRA league, but Michigan will not be caught by surprise, and will be doing everything they can to maintain their vise-grip on the club national championships. Stay tuned.
-The RR Editorial Staff