Thursday, May 12, 2011

Championship Weekend: RR Picks and Predictions for Aberdeen Dad Vails, Sprints, Pac-10s, and the Big Ten

It's a huge weekend in US intercollegiate racing this Saturday and Sunday, with Eastern Sprints, Pac-10s, Dad Vails, and the Big 10 Championships all going on at once. Here at RowingRelated, we like knowledge. And, because of our regard for knowledge, we also like to play with that knowledge a little bit. Warning: opinions and predictions to follow.

The 2011 Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta boasts a field on the men's side that is more competitive than it has been in years, with many of the teams already having matched up on more than one occasion (often with differing results). Based on all the information that we can compile, here are our picks for the Varsity 8 Grand Final, in order of predicted finish:

Virginia
Michigan
Temple
FIT
Delaware
Brock/Williams

We are picking the Virginia men to take the top spot in the Varsity 8. Michigan is certainly very strong, as they proved last weekend at ECACs, defeating a strong crew from Williams for the gold medal. However, Virginia, led by Head Coach Frank Biller, will be better rested and are fully prepared for this weekend – in the excitement over the Michigan win in Worcester, most people have once again overlooked what will be a very strong Hoos squad. Brock has the potential to be very quick as well, depending on whether their international oarsmen are in the lineup this weekend (according to an interview with Brock Head Coach Steffan Wagner, six of the eight rowers in Brock's Dad Vail champion crew last year have spent most of the current season trialling for the Canadian National Team, and as of the time of the interview, he was unsure which of his best rowers would be able to return to Philly this year). FIT and Temple have had very strong results, and cannot be counted out, while Delaware is rumored to be combining their top heavies and lights for the regatta. The bottom line is, anyone in the final could win the race this year. It's going to be a great race!

Eastern Sprints will also feature some very close racing this year on both the men's and women's sides, though there appear to be some clear front runners based on duals this season. This year, the regatta is split, with the men racing in Worcester, MA, and the women in Cherry Hill, NJ. Here are our picks for the men's Grand Final:

Harvard
Princeton
Wisconsin
Boston University
Cornell
Brown

The Crimson have had a very strong season, beginning with an excellent performance at the Head of the Charles, and we are taking them to win this weekend. Wisconsin is a tempting pick, but based on the recent interview with Head Coach Chris Clark (in which he says the Badgers did a 10 x 2k workout at rate 30, 95% speed, with 2 minutes rest on Monday – not exactly a taper), it seems like Wisco has decided to train through Sprints and make a run at the IRA title once again. For this reason, we are picking Princeton edge out Wisco for the silver. The Wisco run at IRAs seems to be real, though unexpected, as Clark indicated at the beginning of the season that the Badgers would not have "anywhere near" the kind of speed it would take to beat Cal and Washington this year. Yale, Navy, Dartmouth and Brown have the potential to make it – a great deal will come down to tight racing in the heats.

The EAWRC Sprints will take place in Cherry Hill this year, and will also feature some quality match-ups. Here are our picks for the women's Grand Final, in order of predicted finish:

Princeton
Brown
Radcliffe
Yale
Columbia
Cornell

The Tigers have just been too dominant all season for us to pick anyone else, so we are taking Princeton to win. Brown will be strong, while Yale hasn't been able to match the speed it could boast over the past couple seasons. Seeing the way the Tigers performed against a very strong squad in Virginia a little over a week ago, it's going to be tough for anyone to come close this year in New Jersey.

The Pac-10 Championships will take place on Lake Natoma this Sunday, and feature elite-level talent on both the men's and women's sides. The Pac-10s will be straight finals this year, so below are our picks for finish order, with the first place finisher at the top:

Men's Varsity 8:
Washington
Cal
Stanford
Oregon State
UCLA
Washington State
USC

Women's Varsity 8:
USC
Cal
Stanford
Washington
Washington State
UCLA
Oregon State

The Washington men will be very hungry after last year's defeat at the IRA to prove themselves against arch-rival California, while Stanford will be trying to chase down the two front runners. The UCLA v. WSU match-up will be an interesting one, as the race between the two crews at WIRAs came down to less than a second.

The USC women's Varsity 8 (all of them internationals) are underrated at No. 4, and have a ton of experience on which to draw against what is a younger California squad. Stanford has all the pieces, but has been unable to put together consistent top-end speed (though they have dealt with injuries in a number of cases). One key for the Cardinal will be if NZ standout Anna Dawson is able to compete (she missed the Cal v. Stanford Dual due to injury).

The Big Ten Championships will also be held this weekend, in 'Windy Indy' – conditions could have an effect on the outcome. We are picking Michigan State to win it, despite having lost to Ohio State earlier in the season. The Spartans have been shuffling their lineups all season trying to find the right mix and we think they will have the right recipe this weekend. Wisconsin has had quite a mixed Spring with several disappointing early season losses. After losing a lot of veteran talent in last year's graduating class they are relying on a lot of young former walk-on talent in all of their boats. They also have yet to put a freshman in any of the three NCAA boats this season, a bold move made presumably in attempt to keep the freshman class together and force the older athletes to step up and get the job done. Ohio State has bounced back nicely from a relatively disappointing 2010 season and look to be on the right track as they have had a solid season thus far and will look to firmly place themselves in the NCAA field of 16 when selections come out next Tuesday. The Michigan team will be super fired up this weekend as they look to try to find a way to sneak into the NCAA field despite not having any significant victories in the Varsity 8 all season.

Women's Varsity 8:
Michigan State
Ohio State
Wisconsin
Michigan
Indiana
Minnesota
Iowa

These are our humble opinions, based on the knowledge that we can put together. Feel free to agree or disagree, and enjoy the weekend's racing, as we'll be doing.

Coming up later this week: NSR II Recap and Review. Reviews of the above regattas to follow as well.

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