With less than three weeks from the 2012 NCAA Rowing Championships at Lake Mercer, Ed Hewitt from row2k takes a look at races in Divisions I, II and III leading up to the NCAAs.
By Ed Hewitt, row2k -
On the quiet weekend before the massive championship weekend, which all but wipes out the regular season results both logistically for seeding purposes, and psychologically for the athletes, let's take a very quick look back at the regular season across the three NCAA divisions - then we'll forget it all, and look ahead to (and brace ourselves for, whew) the multi-lane, everything on the line championships next weekend. Good luck in your prep and racing!
Back in March, with Virginia atop the pre-season polls, Michigan seemed to take full advantage of a mild spring in Ann Arbor on a trip east to face Brown and Princeton, where they showed much earlier speed than usual running out to open water wins in both the first and second varsity eights. A week later, USC took top honors in San Diego, with Virginia in second place out of lane 3 in San Diego's notorious crosswinds - and to do it USC had to best Virginia twice, once in the heats to get that choice inside lane, and then again in the final. It was game on to claim top honors among the DI big eights.
Less than two weeks after their San Diego win, USC boarded a plane to the east coast, where they topped both Princeton and Yale on each school's home course, in a single weekend. USC's SDCC speed was no fluke.
So far this year, UVA's second Varsity has struggled and, with USC's 2nd varsity not as strong as their V8, this opened the door for Cal--firing on all cylinders in big wins over Washington and Stanford a couple weeks later --to take over the top-ranked team spot, coming all the way up from fourth to first.
Then back in the middle of the country, Virginia traveled to Ohio on the last weekend in May, and doled out a pair of open water wins against both Michigan and Ohio State, who otherwise together have really eclipsed their Big 10 counterparts so far this year; in particular, the Ohio State 2V has had some extremely solid results. Given all the transitive properties and race comparisons, the Virginia V8 may have found their legs over the course of the month in April.
In the eastern quadrants, crews have done a lot of cross-regional racing, with Brown, Yale and Radcliffe all hitting the road on significant road trips, and Princeton inviting a number of crews to the Carnegie, but the east has not shown as much speed as yet as in recent years where one or another crew vied for both the V8 and team championships. That said, we have seen some late season surges from both Brown and Yale over the years, and you can't discount them just yet.
On the team front, the UCLA has been perhaps the breakthrough squad of the year thus far, with the second varsity winning and the V4 taking bronze in San Diego, and the Varsity 8 only a length off of USC a week ago. And Cal had a great April, and their surge to the top of the team poll is educative - with no one team quite showing dominance across all event classes, qualification for the championship is going to come down to full-strength team efforts next weekend - and come Memorial Day weekend, points-tallying spreadsheets are going to be seen in coach huddles all weekend.
After 3.2 second win over Western Washington at the NCRC's (really with no one else even close), Humboldt briefly toppled WW's perennial spot atop the D2 ranks, only to have the tables turned at WIRA's when WWU beat them by 3.0 seconds in the final. If the crews continue to split pieces, the fours may loom large if both get to NCAAs, but it may be a hard read for now - while Humboldt State won both the NCRC and WIRA fours final, WWU had a very solid row in the 2V8 at WIRAs, so may not have sorted out their personnel quite yet.
This year's back and forth between Humbodt and WWU continues a trend in DII, as the championship in this division enters its 11th year, programs across the country have begun to emerge as serious contenders, and the field has tightened. At last year's NCAA's, then D2 Committee chair, John Gartin told row2k that "quality is up, across the board. Depth is up, across the board," in the D2 field--and with crews like Mercyhurst in the east and Nova Southeastern looking to move up from second and fourth respectively. The east-west rivalry in DII often gets played out mainly and solely in the NCAA final, as the crews rarely see each other before the big show.
There has been plenty of D3 action in the northeast and the northwest, the two pockets where many of the top schools are still located, in the kind of close proximity that makes for lots of racing opportunities, and tight rivalries. The Northeast really encompasses two regions in this Division, but there is a lot of cross-region racing involved that sets the stage nicely for NCAAs.
So far, Williams yet again has emerged at the top of the class for the whole Division, and has stayed ahead of their closest in-region rival, Bates. Behind the Ephs, though, the fight to scoop up the East region and the remaining at-large bids at the NCAAs has been fierce. This year, William Smith has surged back into contention in the East Region, with wins over Ithaca, Hamilton, and Smith that should send the Herons to Mercer on a tear. Bates meanwhile hasn't lost a race in the V8, and fell only to DI crew Holy Cross in the 2V; in fact, Bates hasn't had a crew within closed water of them yet this year.
Out west, where the pacific regions D3 schools see a lot of one another, too, Puget Sound has been setting the pace, but just barely, with a closed water win over Lewis and Clark at the NCRCs, and a closed water win over PLU on April 14.