Fall 2014 Review: Who's Ahead in the Collegiate Ranks as Winter Training Begins?

Early morning at Conibear Shellhouse (Photo: B. Kitch)
The 2014-2015 season is already shaping up to be every bit as interesting as last year, and we can't help but be excited about all that's to come. So, just because we all need something to read over the Thanksgiving holiday, we're kicking off the rowing 'hot stove' league with a look back at the fall, and the teams that made an impression heading into winter. Disclaimer: This contains opinions, and this is in large part based on fall results, which can be tricky to interpret, or downright misleading, depending on how coaches and programs approach the longer distance racing, and which teams show up at what races. Let's take a look, shall we?

Heavyweight Women
The Virginia Cavaliers are coming off their fourth straight Head Of The Charles victory as fastest collegiate eight, and have another talented roster, including Sam Casto (who just pulled a big erg at East Coast Fall Speed Order, and finished in the top 10 in the single). The Ohio State program is always a threat under the guidance of Andy Teitelbaum, and is coming off their second straight NCAA title, while Stanford claimed the Pac-12 crown last season en route to a top-five finish at NCAAs—however, both of these teams will be short some of their top talent this year, with athletes taking time away from campus to train for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. John and Phoebe Murphys' Brown program finished very high up in the ranks last year (third overall just two points behind Cal) and they have a lot of returners for the 2014-2015 campaign—and this makes the Bears our early season favorite to win it all in 2015, having topped the Cavaliers at the Chase (though Virginia did field three of the top seven crews on Lake Carnegie). Princeton finished sixth last year, and will be another crew to watch, rounding out the RR top five heading into winter training. 

Further crews to watch will be Cal (can the Golden Bears make a smooth transition following the departure of Dave O'Neill for Texas and continue their winning ways?), Washington (having graduated a lot of talent in 2014), and possibly Michigan (eighth overall last season, finished fifth and second among U.S. universities at the Head Of The Charles).

The ACRA women's field has been dominated by Grand Valley over the past several seasons, and we don't see any reason for that to change in 2015. Look for UCSB to continue to make strides out west, while Purdue will likely continue to be a factor come spring.

Heavyweight Men
The Washington Huskies have been without peer for the last four years, from the varsity eight to the Ten Eyck, and there seems little reason to doubt that this team can continue to have that kind of success again this season. The Big Purple Machine is running on all cylinders, and had another strong result at the Head Of The Charles this year, finishing fifth overall just ahead of the French national team. They followed this up by dominating the Head of the Lake once again, and looking up and down the roster, this squad certainly has the potential to continue the UW legacy of success. Not far behind UW at IRAs last year, and also returning a lot of talent are the Golden Bears, and their Charles results showed that—Cal finished just back of France in seventh place, having taken second place overall in the Ten Eyck race last spring.

The Harvard varsity eight turned in another stellar performance on home water, edging a very strong U.S. men's eight for third place, and taking the top intercollegiate spot on the Charles this year. The Crimson will be strong again, but last year stumbled at the IRA, where they failed to earn a medal (though, to be fair, hardware was hard to come by for anyone other than Brown, Cal, and Washington) and saw only two of their crews make the grand final—the varsity eight (fifth), and the frosh eight (fourth)—with their second and third varsity eights landing in the middle of the third final in their respective events. Still, with a solid 2014-2015 roster that features a great deal of international talent, Harvard will be a force to be reckoned with. Brown is always a deep squad, and Paul Cooke's program consistently produces results when it matters most—of the East Coast contingent, Brown may be the best bet to take on the heavy hitters from the West. Yale finished in the medal final last year (as we predicted), but this year they may just have the talent to out-duel their arch rivals and move up the national ranks, and posted a very strong result in the varsity eight at the Princeton Chase (11 seconds back of the Tigers for second place). Boston University enjoyed some very solid results again in the fall, but it still remains to be seen whether the Terriers can translate that early season speed to spring victories, while Princeton wasn't far off a fantastic year last season, finishing in the Grand Final in the varsity, second varsity, and third varsity eights, and scoring the only medal (a silver in the 2V8) that wasn't won by Bears or Huskies. 

At the ACRA level, it's going to be very difficult for anyone to compete with Michigan in 2015. The Wolverines just won the Charles, having nearly pulled off the Dad Vail/ECAC double-victory last spring, which they followed up with another ACRA varsity eight and men's team points victory. As has become the norm, the teams trying to chase down the Wolverines will be Virginia and Grand Valley, while UCSB and Bucknell will be looking to edge one of the top three off the podium.

Lightweight Women
This year will see Stanford adjusting to a new coach, but as Radcliffe showed last season, it is more than possible to make a title run under new management. Lou Berl's Radcliffe program capped off an outstanding season in 2014 with a comeback victory over the Cardinal at IRAs, and the Black and White have gotten off to a strong start this season, finishing second at the Charles behind a Dutch international crew (Minerva) and well ahead of the rest of the intercollegiate lightweight field. Stanford, on the other hand, has had a bit of a slow start to their 2014-2015 season having only just hired their new head coach, Derek Byrnes (formerly of Oakland Strokes) roughly six weeks ago.

Wisconsin won the four in 2014, but, along with Bucknell and Boston University, it will be an uphill battle for the rest of the field to catch the two frontrunners in women's lightweight rowing next spring.

Lightweight Men
The Big Red of Cornell returned to their 2006-2008 form last spring, backing up their Sprints title at IRAs ahead of a highly volatile field. While it was Princeton who took the title in Boston (the Tigers seem to have a knack for getting it done on the Charles), Cornell did take a strong third place, five seconds back of the Tigers, and three seconds behind Harvard. Harvard has a very strong roster this year, with Chris and Michael Wales, Zander Bonorris (Marin alum and veteran), Matt Podlesak (in the U23 lightweight quad for U.S. in 2013, one of the last guys cut from the U23 straight four last year), and Jack Kelly (AUS) in the mix. We're looking at these three as our podium favorites again this year, likely with the Crimson and Big Red battling it out for supremacy, with Yale looking to make it interesting coming down the stretch.


Popular posts from this blog

The 30 Best Rowing Coaches of All Time, Part 3: The Top 10

"I Row Crew" — Rowing in 'The Social Network'

Video Of The Week: Holland Beker 2013

The 30 Best Rowing Coaches of All Time, Part 1

Best Rowing Drills: 5 Favorites of Olympic Champion Esther Lofgren