Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Championship Weekend: NCAAs and ACRAs 2011, RR Picks and Predictions

The championship regattas keep on rolling, and this weekend we celebrate the top teams in women's NCAA rowing, as well as men's and women's collegiate club rowing. In keeping with tradition here on RR, we've got some ideas about what is going to transpire, and some insight to back them up – let's get started.

The men's ACRA field will be deeper than ever in the brief history of the event, with very strong teams from Michigan (ECAC and Aberdeen Dad Vail Champions) and Virginia (bronze medalists at SIRAs, fourth place at Dad Vails roughly four seconds behind Michigan), as well as Bucknell, GVSU, and Notre Dame. Washington State also showed that they have gained speed, defeating the Bruins at Pac-10s just over a week ago (after losing to UCLA at WIRAs). While there are a number of teams that could break into the Grand Final in the varsity eight, at this point, in our opinion, Michigan and UVa are locks for medals at the event. With no Delaware at ACRAs, the bronze medal will be up for grabs, with several teams vying for it. Here's our predicted Grand Final, in order of finish:

Michigan
Virginia
Bucknell
GVSU
Notre Dame
Washington State

Virginia has been our pick for gold all year, but Michigan impressed everyone in Philly, and UVa, while not far off, will enter the ACRA Championship regatta as the underdog (though we still expect them to contend with the Wolverines for the top spot). Bucknell, Grand Valley State, and Notre Dame will battle for the bronze. Bucknell has shown that their program is growing with a successful season in the varsity and frosh eights, so we are taking them to finish third. The Irish had a solid start to their season, and have had plenty of time to focus on this race alone, but will face a tough challenge in GVSU. Washington State, coached by RR interviewee Arthur Ericsson, has made a habit of finishing well over the past two seasons, and we expect them to make the Grand Final in Gainesville, GA this weekend.

The NCAA Championship Regatta also takes place this weekend, and will feature some truly world-class talent from a number of very competitive and deep women's programs. From the East, Princeton has been unmatched thus far, with solid wins over last year's No. 1 UVa, and at EAWRC Sprints. Out West, it has been a showdown between Cal, Stanford and USC in the varsity eight all season, with Cal taking top honors at the Pac-10 Championships (arguably the most talented conference in all of women's collegiate rowing). Stanford was right on their heels, as Cal took the gold medal by roughly a canvas (see the RR coverage of the event). In light of all this, here are our picks for the D1 women's varsity eight Grand Final in Sacramento this weekend:

Princeton
Stanford
California
USC
Brown
Virginia

The Tigers (our top pick from the beginning of the season) will enter the racing as favorites, but they have not had to battle the way that Cal has, and their competition so far this season has not posed as much of a challenge as have Stanford and USC for Cal (though Brown pushed them well at Sprints). However, they too are stacked, have a deep program, and will be very hungry – much of the focus this year has been on the West Coast, and Princeton will look to change all that.

Stanford has the building blocks to win the event, and there will be some desperation to do so on their part, as they will likely lose five of their varsity eight following this season (with four set to graduate and another who will likely take the year off next season to train for London). Also, the Cardinal lost by just five feet to Cal at Pac-10s, with GB U23 World Champion Michelle Vezie out of the lineup (she was stroking the 2V, which won by a considerable margin). Assuming Vezie is back in the varsity eight, the Cardinal could easily make a case for a No. 1 seed.

The Golden Bears have, once again, made the most of their talent, racing like seasoned veterans despite the overall youth of their squad, and winning at Pac-10s while battling near gale-force winds as well as a Stanford crew stroked by an Olympic champion. The bottom line is, they're strong, tough, and have a ton of upside.
 
The 'Women of Troy' are loaded with international talent, and USC head coach Zenon Babraj has been gunning for NCAAs all season (they were off the pace at Pac-10s, likely because they were training through with a focus on the national title).

The truth is, between those four teams (Cal, USC, Stanford, Princeton), anyone could win, and the team points trophy will likely come down to the varsity eight, with Virginia in the mix as well for the team championship.

So far our picks have been fairly accurate, as we picked 5 of 6 Grand Final teams at Dad Vails, 5 of 6 at EARC Sprints (while correctly picking Harvard to win, and Princeton to finish ahead of Wisconsin), 5 of 6 at EAWRC Sprints (picking the winner), and medalists at Pac-10s on the men's and women's sides. Bring on the weekend!

-RR

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