Fantastic racing across the board at the IRA this past weekend despite less than ideal conditions, especially in the heats and semifinals. As was the case last year, there was some drama regarding the shuffling of line assignments. This caused quite a stir, and had many coaches wishing there were a better way. Despite some controversy through the rounds, we think it all sorted itself out in the end, and, as Cal Head Coach Mike Teti put it, "the best team won."
In the varsity eight, we saw some phenomenal racing and an impressive showcase of talent from athletes and coaches alike. After letting Harvard row through them in the Semifinal, the Washington varsity eight asserted themselves in the final, refusing to let anyone beat them when it matter most. A length behind Washington was a very tight battle between Harvard, Cal and Wisconsin for the final two medal spots. Harvard proved to be the best of the rest on the day, winning the silver medal .1 seconds ahead of the Cal varsity eight with a charging Wisconsin crew finishing .6 seconds behind Cal for fourth. This was where the contention about lane assignments surfaced, as Cal (the winner of the first semifinal) was originally supposed to be in lane 3, between Harvard and Washington, but was moved to lane 5 (away from their Pac-10 rivals) prior to the grand final due to 'weather considerations' on what was the calmest day at the race course all week. Brown and Princeton rounded out the final in what was a great race that saw every crew in the mix. Although we correctly picked Washington to win, and picked the right 6 crews to make the final, we didn't see Harvard winning the silver medal after racing four miles against Yale less than a week before racing began in Camden. Hats off to the Crimson!
In the 2V, the Washington Huskies completed their undefeated season, despite an impressive effort from Harvard. Although they didn't catch Washington, Harvard was the only crew to finish within a length of the Husky 2V all season. Those two crews were on another level. To put it in perspective, the third place Wisconsin Badgers finished almost 10 seconds behind Washington and 8 seconds behind Harvard. We predicted the medals right in this race and got 5 out of the 6 finalists with our 6th finalist Syracuse missing out on the final by just .6 seconds in the semifinal.
The Freshman eight was dominated by the Cal Bears who capped an impressive undefeated season and gave Wyatt Allen his first IRA gold medal as a member of the Cal coaching staff. There is clearly a lot of talent in that boat, including one or two walk-ons. Several of them will surely step right into the Cal varsity eight as sophomores. The race for silver saw the Washington frosh out-sprinted the Harvard frosh in a battle of two largely international crews. We predicted 5 of 6 finalists correctly in this race with Brown out-racing Navy in the semifinal to upset our prediction.
In the men's and women's lightweight eights we saw some tight racing and some upsets. Andy Card and his Yale lightweights defeated a more decorated Harvard lightweight eight that had defeated the Bulldogs just three weeks prior at the Eastern Sprints. This race was a barn burner that ended in a photo finish, ultimately revealing Yale as the winner's by just .02 seconds (roughly one foot). A feisty Dartmouth crew raced valiantly to pick up the bronze medal less than a length back of the winner, while a talented Princeton squad finish a distant and disappointing fifth.
The women's lightweight eight saw the defending champion Stanford crew do it again as they avenged significant early season loss to Princeton (our top pick for the event) by beating them by just less than a second to reclaim the national title. Wisconsin finished well back of Stanford and Princeton, but still found themselves in the medals.
The surprise of the weekend for us was the Stanford men's varsity eight who almost nipped the Wisconsin crew in the semifinal to give the Cardinal a spot in the final. That was the one shining moment for a crew that was relatively quiet all season despite having some pretty accomplished oarsmen in the boat. Kudos also to Princeton who quietly managed to qualify all of their boats for the Grand Finals. Greg Hughes seems to have them on the right track in his second year at the helm.
In the end, it was the Washington Huskies and their Head Coach Mike Callahan that won the day winning the open four and varsity four en route to the Ten Eyck Trophy. Callahan did everything right this season as he prepared his team to showcase their speed and depth at the IRA, winning every event except for the frosh eight, which they lost by just 2 seconds. The level of talent in the Conibear Shellhouse is nothing short of amazing, but credit also goes to the coaching staff for making sure everything was done right in order to not mess it up. Callahan moved two starboards up from his second varsity between the Pac-10 Championship and the IRA, after they narrowly defeated Cal on Lake Natoma. This looks like a move that might have salvaged the Varsity Challenge Cup title for the Huskies. The Husky varsity boats saw a bow ball finish ahead of them just one time all season (the semifinal in the varsity eight). Quite an impressive feat from the V8 all the way down to the V4.
While Washington was busy showcasing their dominant depth, Harry Parker and his talent-laden Harvard squad were also flexing their muscle, finishing in the medals in every event except for the Varsity 4. They had a total of just 5 Seniors among their 3 varsity eights this season (two in the V8, two in the 2V). Given all this, we are picking Harvard as the favorites to dominate in 2012, so watch out for the Crimson next season!
Coming soon: RR gives out its first round of awards for great performances during the 2010-2011 season.
-The RR Editorial Staff