Friday, June 01, 2007

The Big Race is Tomorrow

UW Crew Rowers on collision course
By Chuck Gormley
From The Seattle Times
CHERRY HILL, N.J. — The top-seeded University of Washington varsity eight got its first glimpse at unbeaten challenger Harvard on Thursday when each crew won its heat in the 105th Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championships on Cooper River.
The boats turned in the two fastest times to qualify for today's semifinals and are on a collision course to go head-to-head for the first time on Saturday to determine this year's national champion.
The Huskies' varsity eight — three seniors, two juniors and four sophomores, including coxswain Katelin Snyder — is looking for its first national title since 1997. The Crimson, made up of five seniors, two juniors and two sophomores, is looking for its fourth V-8 title in five years.
"They're good," Washington coach Bob Ernst said of Harvard, which edged Stanford by two-tenths of a second in 5 minutes, 36.36 seconds.
"They certainly didn't race Stanford any harder than they needed to, but they still edged them out at the end."
Facing a light crosswind on a warm, muggy day, Washington negotiated the 2,000-meter course in 5:35.95, nearly a full second ahead of Brown (5:36.65).
"The winning times are kind of important, but they're not very indicative of who's going to win Saturday's race," said Ernst, who follows the races by bicycle on the banks of the Cooper. "Stanford was throwing everything but the kitchen sink at them, same as Brown did to us, and I think Harvard rowed the race the same way we did. They didn't win by much."
The big question Thursday was just how much the rowers from Washington and Harvard left on the Cooper, and how much they're conserving for Saturday's grand final.
"There are four sophomores in that boat, but they're pretty savvy racers," Ernst said of his unbeaten Huskies. "They know that when the coach tells them they better go out and win the heat it's in their best interests to do that.
"But they can be pretty conservative at times. The guys weren't going to do any more than they had to, besides winning. They did what they needed to do."
Harvard coach Harry Parker said he only "got a glimpse" of Washington's race and railed at the suggestion that any crew held anything back on Thursday.
"We had to attack if we wanted to qualify for the next race," he said. "Nobody is holding anything back."
Smoke and mirrors? Perhaps. Washington, Harvard, Stanford and Brown each turned in times that would have won last year's final, which was won by California in 5:37.71. The course record for the varsity eight came in the 1999 grand final when California clocked a 5:23.60.
Washington was well off that mark Thursday, but senior oarsman Aljosa Corovic said there is plenty left in the Huskies' tanks.
"We can definitely go faster; that's the plan," said Corovic, a four-year letter winner from Belgrade, Serbia. "The advantage I'd give us [over Harvard] is that we're younger and hungrier. Maybe once you've been there, you're less hungry. I don't know."
Parker, who has been coaching at Harvard for 45 years with 18 undefeated teams, said it would be foolish to suggest Saturday's race will come down to just two teams.
"Anybody watching today's races are dreaming if they think it will be a two-boat race," Parker said. "It could be a 12-boat race. I'm amazed by how closely contested the races were. In my opinion, it's wide open."
• Washington also won the freshman eight heat in 5:48.50. Brown (5:48.15) and Harvard (5:48.24) clocked faster times to win their heats.
• In the men's open fours, the Huskies (6:34.77) were second behind Princeton (6:30.16) in their afternoon heats.

picture credit here.