Yale should have seen it coming. After all, 2001 is an odd-numbered year.
But after defeating Harvard’s lightweight varsity eight by four seconds in the Goldthwait Cup and winning the Eastern title, it’s understandable that the Elis might have expected further victory at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association’s National Championship. Understandable, but unsupported.
In a tight race on the Cooper River in Camden, N.J. on Saturday, Harvard won the crown, its sixth title since 1991, with all of its titles occurring in odd-numbered years.
In the trial heats on Saturday morning, Harvard took third place in its heat with a time of 5:57.76, winning the last spot in the Grand Final. Dartmouth’s 5:56.89 took first place and Navy posted a time of 5:57.59 to edge the Crimson out of second place.
In the Grand Final that afternoon, Yale had a strong start that gave the Elis the advantage for the first part of the race, but the Crimson recovered distance well after the frenzied start.
“We didn’t have a great start,” said junior coxswain Joe Finelli. “We were pretty strong at 800 yards. We were up by eight or nine seats 1200 [meters] down.”
The Crimson benefited from having the lead through most of the race.
“It’s a lot easier rowing out in front,” Finelli said. “It’s a great psychological edge. It’s really hard to row through another boat.”
Though Harvard lost a bit of that lead through the rest of the course, the Crimson still pulled through the finish line as the clear winner with a time of 5:46.65 over Yale’s 5:47.52. Dartmouth took third place with a time of 5:48.83 followed by Georgetown’s 5:50.09 and Navy’s 5:51.50.
“We executed [the race] really well,” said senior Noah Bloom. “It’s great because it’s a senior-heavy year and it was a really tight race. Navy was really fast; they really had a great race. Yale had a strong boat and Dartmouth was fantastic.”
With the victory, Harvard avenged losses from Dartmouth and Yale at Eastern Sprints. The Crimson also continued its truly odd streak at the National Championship.
“We’re obviously thrilled,” Finelli said. “We’re happy that we showed what we’re capable of. We finally put a complete race together.”
Harvard also sent two four-boats to compete in the open-four with coxswain and the varsity four with coxswain events.
In the varsity-four event, Harvard took fourth place in the Third Level Final with a time of 6:56.20 while California’s 6:33.34 won the Grand Final.
In the open-four event, the Crimson lightweights faced heavyweight fours from around the nation, yet still performed excellently. Harvard’s second place in the morning heats on Thursday sent the Crimson into the repechage, where it took first place and a spot in the Grand Final.
In the Grand Final, Harvard earned third place with a time of 5:53.70, just beating out Fordham’s 5:53.90. Wisconsin posted a winning time of 6:49.80 followed by Brown’s 6:53.10.
“The fours rowed really well, especially in the open four,” said co-captain Jesse Elzinga. “There was one freshman in that boat and they all had very little preparation.”
Though some of Harvard’s rowers may have had more time to prepare than others, it did not appear to harm the Crimson’s performance. After his 16th season coaching at Harvard, Charley Butt is famous for the lightweight program’s excellent preparation.
“Charley Butt is becoming a legend,” Elzinga said. “It was obviously our best race of the year. We prepared very well and our coach had us really ready.”
The Radcliffe lightweights also traveled to IRAs with hopes of besting Prince and Wisconsin, the thorns in the Black and White’s otherwise unblemished season.
But though the Tigers and the Badgers remain at the top after the Grand Final, Radcliffe finished in third place, its best finish since it won the national title in 1997.
The Black and White began the regatta on Friday, by taking third place in its morning heat. MIT won the race and a spot in the Grand Final with a time of 7:28.15 just edging Villanova’s 7:28.71. Radcliffe’s time of 7:44.76 sent it to the repechage that afternoon.
The Black and White shined in the repechage, posting a winning time of 7:08.71, besting UMass’s time of 7:12.57 and Deleware’s 7:17.90. With the victory, Radcliffe earned a lane in the Grand Final. UMass won a spot in the Petite Final, but both Georgetown and the Minutemen were knocked out of further races when they didn’t make weight at the second weigh-in.
In the Grand Final, reigning national champion Princeton successful defended its title with a time of 6:47.5 over Wisconsin’s 6:53.36. Radcliffe’s time of 7:02.14 took third, just edging out MIT’s 7:02.58.
“Princeton jumped out by themselves and led the race,” said captain Laura Heyns. “We were jostling for position with MIT and trading seats down the course. We entered the last 20 strokes dead even when Nancy [Poon] called a special sprint that jacked the rating right up. When we finished, we couldn’t see who was ahead until we were announced.”
Princeton and Wisconsin have ruled over the lightweight field all spring, besting the Black and White all three times they have met. MIT, however, has not had as notoriously strong a program although its increasing speed was noted in the dual race on May 5 of this season.
“[It’s a] great move for MIT,” Heyns said. “Actually the entire field is getting more competitive.”
Heyns and Poon are the only seniors in the boat, leaving seven veterans in a boat that promises further success.
“I’m really pleased,” said captain Laura Heyns. “We raced a great race in the Grand Final. Princeton and Wisconsin were just faster that day.”