Tuesday, March 18, 2014

IRA and ACRA Rowing: Crews to Watch in 2014

Yesterday, we took a look at our preseason top 20 Division I NCAA teams. Today, it's time to turn our attention to the top IRA and ACRA programs so far in the 2013-2014 campaign. And so, without further ado, here's out take on varsity, lightweight, and club crews to watch this season. (And, for the most part, we're sticking to our guns from our fall 2013 predictions—read them here.)



IRA Programs

Heavyweight Men
1. California
The Golden Bears have six of the eight oarsmen on this year's team returning from the 2011 IRA winning frosh eight, which was the last crew to defeat Washington in any event at the IRA. They will be led by talented Serbians Luka Dordevic, Igor Lucic, Ivan Ostojic and Jovan Jovanovic. British athletes Stephen Tuck, James Scott, Edward Williams and Morgan Hellen, Aussies Louis Snelson, Michael Bernerius and Aaron Wright, Americans Richard Walter and U23 silver medalist and USC transfer Carter Crowe, and seniors Christian Reynolds, Cole Reiser, and Spencer Hall. Erg standout Christian Kader will also look to make an impact on one of the top two eights this spring.

2. Harvard
In Charley Butt's first year at the helm they look to be the squad of the next few years with an extremely talented roster in every class that is looking a lot like the model established in Seattle over the last several years. The Crimson have a very international roster (28 foreign athletes out of a combined 67 between frosh and varsity), including freshman Olympian Juri-Mikk Udam, who will look to have a similar impact in his first year as South African Vincent Breet did last year as a freshman in the varsity. The Crimson will also expect major contributions from Scottish athlete Andrew Holmes, Australians Charles Risbey, Alexander Uruchurtu, James Medway, Lachlan Hanbury-Brown, Rory Glover, Andrew Emmett, Jay Ditmarsch, and James Croxford. English athletes Gregory Edwards and Edward Rippon, and German sophmore Achim Harzheim will be in the mix. Americans Max Meyer-Bosse, Andrew Reed, Ryan Furey, J.P. Hogan, and Nick Jaroszewicz will also add valuable experience to the top boats.

3. Washington
There are a number of significant questions at the top end of the Washington depth chart after the departure of some very talented seniors in 2013. Look for this year's squad to be led by British studs Marcus Bowyer, Edward Nainby-Luxmoore and Myles Neary, Australian Henry Meek, Germans Sebastian Peter and Finn Schroeder, Slovenian sophomore Grega Domanjko, Kiwi Julian Svoboda and Americans Alex Perkins and Sam Dommer.

4. Brown
Bruno will have an incredibly fit and deep squad ready to race with anyone in the country on any given day. In fact, the Bears could easily have a varsity eight that includes nobody slower than 6:05 on the erg for 2k. Hunter Leeming, Anders Weiss and Morgan Gerlak are all returning to Brown after winning medals for the U.S. at the Under 23 World Championships in Austria this past summer. Vyacheslav Chupryna, Whiting Tennis, Bailey Willis, Martin Aspholm, Ethan Borchelt, and Canadian Quinten Richardson will also look to establish seats in the varsity eight this spring. We will also be keeping our eye out for standout freshman Anand Rajesh to see if he is thrown into the mix with the varsity guys to get a chance to race in the top boat in his first year on the squad. Brown will also seek contributions from a group of international oarsmen made up of mostly freshmen and sophomores.

Although we may be doing so in picking them to finish fourth at the IRA, we would encourage any opponent not to underestimate this impressive group of athletes and top-notch coaching staff. The Bears are a blue collar group that knows how to get the job done and always prove to be gritty racers when it counts.

5. Northeastern
The 'other' Huskies raised the bar last year, but can they continue that path? The Huskies worked very hard last year in order to take a major step forward and let the rowing world know they are serious about getting on the IRA podium. However, after making such significant strides in 2013 and falling just (achingly) short at the end, the job will not get any easier in 2014. They will be led by Americans Justin Jones and Trevor Weasor, Sean Crwoley, Kyle Erlandson, and Max Montpetit as well as Scottish athlete Cameron Buchan and Kiwi Riordan Morrell. We expect freshmen Gabriel Tomic (Serbia) and Ole Henrik Bang-Andreasen (Norway) to be in the mix for top seats. We will be interested to see if Canadian U23 national teamer Ryan Rosts can return to his old form after recovery from a serious back injury.

6. Yale
7. Princeton
8. Stanford
9. Boston University
10. Wisconsin

Men's Lightweights
1. Princeton
The Princeton Tigers have had some difficulties over the past three seasons, often with fast falls followed by not-quite-fast-enough spring racing seasons. This year, however, they have both the horsepower and the coaching staff to make the leap back to the top of the podium, with multiple athletes under 6:15 (including former walk-on Matt Drabick) and Bill Manning joining Marty Crotty in the Princeton Boathouse. Look for the Tigers to build on another great Head Of The Charles result with a similar spring this year.

2. Yale
Veteran coach Andy Card knows the lightweight league, and Bulldogs were the last team to beat Harvard. The Bulldogs, who were just one second back of Harvard at the 2013 IRA when all was said and done, also showed potential in the fall, and will be looking to push their arch rivals down the podium come championship racing season.

3. Harvard
The Crimson are coming off a run of absolute dominance, with three nearly perfect seasons in the rearview mirror—but for that one incredibly close loss to Yale at the 2011 IRA Regatta. Michiel Bartman is coming across from the women's side, where he had a successful stint building Radcliffe into a solid gold-medal contender. However, it will mean a period of adjustment for Harvard, which, in a league where races are determined by inches, could see close rivals pass them up this year. Even still, we're looking for a solid podium finish to a first year coaching for Bartman.

Women's Lightweights
1. Stanford
Yes, they're coming off a four-peat at the IRA, but there's not reason to count the Cardinal out in 2014. While they lost assistant coach Madeline Davis to Ohio State, they gained a talented frosh group that includes phenom Christine Cavallo, who crushed Crash-Bs last year in a time of 7:05.7 (a new world record for junior lightweight women). Look for Al Acosta's crew to be in contention for a fifth straight title.

2. Radcliffe
The Black and White will have a new coach this season in Lou Berl, but they will have a significant number of returners from last year's silver medal-winning boat. Look for another close battle this season between Stanford and Radcliffe for the top spot overall. (No pressure coach!)

3. Bucknell
The Bison have made themselves into perennial contenders in this league, and were just off the podium last season, finishing fourth behind Wisconsin. We're looking for that to reverse this year, with the Bison edging the Badgers into fourth place.

ACRA Men's Programs

1. Michigan
In speaking with Gregg Hartsuff for the ROWING Magazine 2014 season preview, the long-time Michigan coach hinted that this year's varsity squad might just be deeper and more powerful than last year's edition (with a large group of talented sophomores in the mix for the top boats), which reclaimed the varsity eight title at ACRAs ahead of rival UVA by roughly half a length. Look for the Wolverines to defend that title this year, and maybe even add that elusive Dad Vail title to the mix (though they will likely face tough challenges from Drexel and FIT in Philly).

2. Virginia
UVA's Frank Biller is seeing a new group of leaders emerge this season, and while perhaps not as deep as in previous years, the Cavaliers will still be a strong contender for the varsity events, with last year's ACRA-winning frosh eight moving up the ranks.

3. GVSU
John Bancheri is continuing to build a strong program at Grand Valley, and this year he'll have erg standout Nate Biolchini back in the ranks for the varsity eight. The Lakers will be making an appearance once again at the upcoming San Diego Crew Classic, which will offer a solid preview of where they stack up against other club programs. In their last appearance at Crew Classic in 2012, the Lakers edged Notre Dame for the Cal Cup title.

Honorable mention: Bucknell
The Bison have been moving up the club ranks in recent years, and will have some significant horsepower in the form of Connor Corwen (roughly 6:00 on the erg). They're also gearing up for a trip to Henley Royal Regatta this year, so look for the Bison to be on a mission this spring.

-RR

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