2015 ACRA Season Preview: The RR Top Five

The UCSB men on the Crew Classic podium, 2013 (Photo: B. Kitch)
Without a doubt, the top-end speed in men's club rowing has been improving over the past few years, not least because of the development of the ACRA league. What will 2015 hold? Here are our picks for the long haul.

1. University of Virginia
Frank Biller has built a perennial contender at UVa, and 2015 looks good for the Cavaliers so far. While UVa fell just short of our preseason no. 3 Grand Valley State at the Charles, what was a young group in 2014 is already starting to mature nicely, and Biller is excited to see the results of several tweaks to the training plan coming to fruition this spring. And, in case there wasn't already enough motivation to train for the long haul, the Cavs are headed back to Henley Royal Regatta again this summer. Virginia bested rivals Michigan last weekend at the Murphy Cup, and given the team's depth, we suspect that they may just have the combination to get it done this spring.

2. University of Michigan
The Wolverines are coming in hot after a very solid fall season that saw them win the Head Of The Charles in the men's collegiate eight, and while they're missing significant experience from their varsity eight from a year ago, the depth of the squad has Michigan on track for another banner year. Much like their counterparts at the University of Washington, it's about guys stepping up and filling new roles. Having spoken with head coach Gregg Hartsuff about his 2015 squad for the next issue of ROWING Magazine, I can tell you he's pleased with how his guys are responding to the challenge.

3. Grand Valley State
GVSU has a solid combination of experience and horsepower on board this year, with Orange Coast College alum Austin Gentry in the mix (and likely also close to the 6:00 mark for 2,000m). The Lakers scored a strong result at the Charles, finishing third overall and got a taste of varsity competition this weekend at the San Diego Crew Classic, where they entered in the Copley Cup this year, facing off against the likes of California, Navy, and Stanford. It seems like head coach John Bancheri wants to challenge this group early—with a view toward big results in May.

The top three might be trading punches all season, and we suspect that there will be different winners (or highest-place club finishers) at Dad Vails and ACRAs this year. It's going to be very interesting to watch, and it'll depend on how each program prioritizes particular races and training peaks over the course of the next two months. Our gut feeling is that UVa and Michigan might have more speed to gain come May, with GVSU hot on their heels in the ACRA final.

4. UC Santa Barbara
The Gauchos have been building a solid program over the past few seasons, and the results show it, including their outstanding come-from-behind win at Crew Classic last weekend. While they've climbed atop the club rowing field on the West Coast much of the time, the true test will come against the 'Beasts from the [Midwest and] East.' Could this be the year that UCSB lands a varsity eight on the podium at ACRAs?

5. Boston College
The Golden Eagles posted a great result a the Head Of The Charles, edging Trinity in the men's collegiate eight and finishing eighth overall. The sophomore class is talented, but it will be interesting to see how everything plays out when BC races more experienced lineups from Delaware and Bucknell this spring. Still, last year's varsity eight wasn't far off the pace, and looking at their season schedule, the group is likely to mature quickly racing high-quality competition.

Also on the radar are UC Irvine under head coach (and four-time IRA champion at Washington) AJ Brooks, after a solid fourth-place finish in the Cal Cup at Crew Classic (second among club programs behind UC Santa Barbara, and neck and neck with a resurgent Santa Clara men's varsity eight).

Let the games begin! We will update our rankings throughout the season. Check the new RR Rankings page to see current and historical rankings, updated as they become available.


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