Inexperienced Heavyweight Crew Plagued With Line-Up 'Problems
"Get Ready. Ready all. Row!"
It has been 109 years since those words first echoed over Lake Winapesaukee and inaugurated the era of intercollegiate sports with a Harvard victory over two Yale crews. Tomorrow on the Charles the same command will open one of the most unpredictable Harvard seasons in the long history since that first event.
Harvard's pride, its heavyweight crew, is in deep trouble. Only three men are left from the boat which carried the Crimson colors to victory in the Grand Challenge at Henley two years ago; only four remain from the crew which was the pre-season favorite last year, and which won all of its longer races. (The heavies lost over sprint distances in the Olympic trials; to Cornell in the E.A.R.C. sprints; and to Navy in the Adams Cup race.
In a sport which requires the utmost in team work, Coach Harvey Love has been plagued all spring with the inability to find a combination of eight men that can consistently function as a winning shell.
This, of course, is the problem which faces every coach, but as Love notes, it is a relative thing. Navy and Cornell have been trying all spring to pick a first eight from two equally capable crews. The Crimson, unlike these teams, has no such depth, and still looks for that one winning combination.
Thus far, Love has been forced to play musical chairs with his 24-man squad; consequently, as many as 15 different men have been in the first shell at some time or other. But the juggling has not paid off: Thus far, no single combination has demonstrated much superiority over any other, and the first boat positions are still up for grabs for some 13 top contenders.
The key figure around which Love is attempting to build his boat is senior Parry Boyden, Captain of the crew for the second year. A terrific competitor, Boyden has a special motive for desiring a winning boat: A victory over Yale at New London this year would put him in the select company of strokes who have beaten the Eli four years running--a trick last accomplished by Gerry Cassedy in 1930-33.
An example of the difficulties facing the Crimson this year is that Love might have to experiment with Boyden at another position than stroke--"if worse comes to worse," Love said, adding that such drastic action has not been warranted thus far.
The situation has developed to the point where the Crimson coach has experimented with combinations not including the other three returning lettermen--Luke Beckinridge, last year's seven oar; Ken Gregg, a fixture in the five seat for two years; and junior John Higginson, who rowed at number two last year. Also, Love has been hampered by the loss of coxswain Bob Goodwin, sidelined with an infected throat. Additionally, there is not much help from last year's freshman boat: Only three sophomores from the first freshman shell have turned out.
What has been most frustrating about the showing so far is the feeling, that the crew, despite its lack of depth and experience, has the potential to do quite well if it could only jell. In Boyden it has one of the finest and most experienced strokes in the country; and in the others, it has the necessary size for a top team.
Thus far, however, the Crimson has gone nowhere. The time trials have been discouraging, and the constant shifting of oarsmen, though stimulating competition in practices, has hindered the development of any real cohesion. The oarsmen dont' get a chance to develop the balance, timing, and power which results from steady practicing together. Love wishes that some group would "come along and take charge."
At this stage, it is difficult to pin-point what is wrong with the crew. The men are in good condition, the stroke is up to racing cadence, the starts are adequate for this time of year, and the bladework is improving. But oddly enough, it hasn't added up to any speed. One oarsman commented on the paradox rather well earlier this week: "If a combinations develope out of this, all hell could break loose."
It had better happen soon. For unlike past seasons, when the Crimson didn't meet any real competition until the third week, the varsity will run into Cornell in its second race next Saturday. And it can't take its first race with Syracuse--always an unknown quantity and rarely a pushover--as any sure bet. Far from it.
The stuff competition comes from Cornell at Ithaca and from Navy in the Adams regatta on the Charles two weeks later. It is fortunate that these teams can put eight men in one shell, Love remarked this week, nothing that each has two interchangeable boats.
The 2000 meter E.A.R.C. sprint championships on May 20 on Lake Quinsigamond and the four-mile race against Yale on the Thames at New London on June 17 mark the climax of the season. It is in the latter that Boyden will put his victory string on the line as the varsity goes after its third straight win over Yale. How good Yale will be remains a complete mystery at this point.
How good Harvard will be also remains a complete mystery at this point. If the oarsmen acquire that elusive quality which constitutes a coordinated and powerful crew, spectators along the Charles can expect to see one of the best series of races in recent years. If, as unfortunately appears the case at present, the team work and speed does not develop, the oarsmen can expect to make the long row from the Basin back to Newell without their shirts.