Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Bold Start to 2012: RR Predictions and Crews to Watch This Year

It’s getting to be that time of year again, and here at RR we’ve got itchy trigger fingers regarding picks and predictions for the 2012 season. Last year, in our first go around, we managed to do all right for ourselves. We told you in February of 2011 that the Virginia men’s team was poised to dethrone perennial ACRA power Michigan. We told you in March that the Princeton women would win the varsity eight at the 2011 NCAA Rowing Championships. While it stirred up a great deal of controversy at the time, we took a risk and questioned the nature of USRowing selection on the men’s side in the build up to the World Championships in Bled. There are further examples that we could cite, but we know that what you’d really like to read about is the here and now–so here, now, are a few ‘broad strokes’ ideas for the 2012 season. Enjoy.

The UVA Women
The Virginia women were characteristically deep last year, but seemed to lack the top end speed to get it done in the varsity eight, falling from second place in 2010 to seventh place in 2011, edging 2010 varsity eight champ Yale to win the B Final. This year, the Cavaliers got the campaign started right, with a defining moment coming as the UVA varsity eight passed Princeton’s top crew while they rounded the long curve to Eliot Bridge, winning the event in decisive fashion, some eight seconds ahead of the field. The second crew from UVA placed 10th overall. The Cavs followed this up with another outstanding show of depth at the Princeton Chase, again winning the varsity eight, and this time placing three eights in the top ten crews (UVA’s fourth boat placed 22nd, in the top half of the 49 crews entered in the women’s open eight event). In the women’s frosh eight, UVA again took first place, and Virginia B placed 10th overall.

The UVA women's squad includes British standouts Fiona Schlesinger and Sarah Cowburn, as well as Americans Kristine O’Brien, Martha Kuzzy, Brandy Herald, and freshman stud Chandler Lally. Canadian U23 national teamer Susanne Grainger is also in the mix. They are the sure favorites to win the team trophy at this year's NCAA Rowing Championships, and will also be highly competitive for the varsity eight title. Things are looking up in Charlottesville.

The Harvard Men
The Crimson will dominate the competition this year. In fact, we are willing to go so far as to say that the Harvard men will win all their races by at least ½ a length. Why such a bold statement? Harvard is one of the only ‘top-tier’ programs to have improved their varsity eight from last season, when the Crimson won an IRA silver medal. Without a doubt, Cal and Washington have a great deal of talent, as do Princeton, Wisconsin, and a number of other grand final contenders. But Washington lost two huge engines in Hans Struzyna and Conlin McCabe, while Cal lost Beijing Olympian and current Dutch national teamer Olivier Siegelaar. Harvard actually has one of its internationals back in the lineup after missing last season–a season in which they were undefeated until the IRA grand final.

Harvard features three sophomores who have stepped up to throw their names in the hat for an IRA run in Harry Parker’s 50th year as head coach. These three sophomores–Andrew Holmes, Andrew Reed and Caspar Jopling–already bumped a couple of last year’s varsity eight members down to the JV as of the fall (based on the victorious Harvard crew in the Championship Men's Eight at the 2011 Head Of The Charles). It is usually a good sign of speed when sophomores can step into major roles, occupying seats of upperclassmen who took home silver last spring. Stroke Patrick Lapage, Matthew Edstein and Josh Hicks are all back from last year’s eight, as is Kiwi Sam O’Connor (who missed last Spring recovering from a bike accident), joining his brother James.

Other crews to watch are, of course, Cal, Washington, Princeton, Wisconsin, Brown, and Boston University–it will be quite a battle to make the IRA final this spring.

The Michigan Men
The Wolverines will have a newly placed chip on their collective shoulder now that UVA has emerged as a rival in the ACRA world. We expect Frank Biller’s UVA men to be solid, with juniors Ben Hammond and Stephen Lee-Kramer leading the way, but they lost some very talented seniors from their varsity eight, including ‘the 5:54 man’ Matt Miller, and Alan Kush. It will be an uphill battle for Biller, but we know he is capable of great things, having begun to build an outstanding program–Gregg Hartsuff, however, has already built a perennial contender, and this year he will look to take full advantage of that depth in what could be an undefeated ACRA season. Louis Schaljo, a sophomore at Michigan who set the Freshman record for 2k last Winter, will be stepping up to the varsity level. Plus, they have a ton of returning talent–the Wolverines return seven of their varsity eight from last year, including Nathan Bohn, Josh Getz, Stephen Lanham and Frank Sedlar. They have ambitious goals and are aiming to take a trip to Henley this Summer. Expect them to be the class of the club field and avenge their ACRA loss in the varsity eight from last year.

The U.S. Men
While it’s been a tough quadrennium for the U.S. men, things are definitely looking up, with a view toward London. Getting Mike Teti involved was exactly what was needed to jump start the eight (just as we suggested back in July of last year, following the World Rowing Under 23 Championships), and there are a number of talented, proven athletes in the mix (including 2008 Olympians David Banks, Dan Walsh, Josh Inman, and Steve Coppola) for what we think will be a crew that not only qualifies, but will be in serious contention for a medal. With Teti dealing with the larger eight group (currently going quite well–look for an update with Teti in the upcoming issue of Rowing News), McLaren will be free to do what he does best–develop athletes and crews. In the Australian system, he functioned very well as a coach of specific crews. Say what you want about McLaren, but he has done it in the past, with the Australian M4- in Sydney and others, so, given that his will be the priority boat for the U.S. (according to USRowing), we’re expecting a medal from the M4-. Another crew to watch will be the men's quad–there is enough sculling talent in Chula Vista to put together a grand final-caliber entry.

It would be ironic, yes, but, in our opinion, it remains a strong possibility that, following what has been one of the least successful quadrennia for the U.S. men en route to the Olympics since de Coubertin revived the whole idea, they could accomplish something greater than any U.S. team since 1996–that being winning multiple medals in rowing at the same Olympics.

The U.S. Women
While it may not be much of a stretch, we are predicting two medals for the U.S. women's team, most likely coming in the eight and the quad. The eight has been dominant for six straight years, and has managed to fight off strong challenges from Canada and a surging Great Britain over the past 12 months–we think that Tom Terhaar has his sights set and will put together another winning combination in the eight. The quad is coming off a silver medal performance at the 2011 world championships, and given the amount of depth and experience available on the women's side, we're looking for another podium appearance come July.

There. We said it. If we're wrong, we'll take the heat. If not, we'll be quite pleased with ourselves, which is always vastly preferable, and we promise we won't start calling ourselves 'Rowstradamus' or anything like that (at least publicly). Now it's time to sit back, relax, and see how it all plays out.

-RR

No comments :

Post a Comment