Sometime, the streak has to end. That’s what rivals whispered about the No. 1 Harvard heavyweights as they prepared to defend their Eastern Sprints title yesterday evening.
It was the last race of the night, the weather had held up amidst threats of thunderstorms, and Harvard sat at the start line with two years of history staring it straight in the face.
Yes, everybody at Lake Quinsigamond agreed, sometime the streak has to end.
But not at the 2005 Eastern Sprints.
The Crimson varsity heavyweights set about their business as usual yesterday, dismantling a six-boat field before setting their sights on the Princeton-Harvard two-boat battle that emerged after the race’s first 500 meters. The win was the Crimson’s third consecutive at the Eastern Sprints and marked the second straight year Harvard has out-dueled the Tigers for the EARC crown.
“We knew that Princeton was going to be very, very fast,” captain five-seat Aaron Holzapfel said. “Coming off the line, we wanted to make sure that we didn’t give them any room to settle down or to take the race from us. We wanted to be even with them in the beginning of the race so that they would not get any glimpse of hope.”
In an April dual race with Princeton, Harvard was forced to overcome a six-seat deficit off the start to defeat the Tigers. But yesterday, Harvard’s best start of the season left the Crimson even with the field after the race’s first 20 strokes.
“We had our best start this season,” said sophomore varsity two-seat Andrew Boston. “The best start I’ve ever experienced. We were even with the other boats, which for us is really solid.”
After 500 meters, the Crimson held a one- to two- seat advantage over the Tigers, with Northeastern following a close third. The Huskies kept close to Harvard and Princeton throughout the first 1,000 meters, living up to their No. 3 EARC ranking.
“Northeastern put in a good race,” said senior varsity seven-seat Malcolm Howard. “All credit to them, too. It might have seemed like only a two-boat race in the end, but they were pushing early.”
By 1,000 meters, however, the heavyweight final delivered just what it had promised—Harvard versus Princeton, round two. The Tigers, out to avenge last year’s Sprints loss and the boat’s only 2005 dual defeat to the Crimson, trailed Harvard by four to five seats at the midway point.
Both crews tried to gain ground with moves after the 1,000-meter mark, though neither could substantially alter the margin. As the boats became visible to the spectators with 750 meters remaining, the Crimson maintained a six-seat advantage over the Tigers.
“They would bring it up a little bit, and we would bring it up a little bit the whole way down,” Howard said. “They put an incredible last one thousand together.”
Harvard, which had yet to see contact with a crew in the final 500 meters, could not shake the Tigers as the boats prepared for the final sprint. Princeton’s final sprint made the finish the tightest the Crimson had seen since last year’s dual victory over the Tigers.
“We knew they were going to sprint, we knew they were going to push,” Howard said. “We had to just go.”
And the 2005 version of the Harvard heavyweights went. The Crimson’s sprint put it four seats up on Princeton at the finish, with Harvard finishing in 5:29.52 and Princeton following in 5:30.66. Northeastern came in third with a time of 5:35.75.
“I think we were pretty focused on Princeton and vice versa,” varsity stroke Adam Kosmicki said. “They just allowed us to push back every time they pushed.”
“But Princeton just laid down an awesome race,” he added.
Harvard’s 1.14-second victory was its closest of 2005 by over five seconds. Since the undefeated dual race mark began in 2001, yesterday’s race was the only collegiate championship race the Crimson did not claim by open water. In the thrilling finish, both boats torched Princeton’s 2001 course record of 5:31.45.
“To their credit, they didn’t give us an inch,” Holzapfel said. “That was the toughest race I’ve had collegiately. They were very, very tough.”
For Holzapfel and Howard, yesterday marked the duo’s fourth trip to the winner’s dock at Eastern Sprints. The two won a Sprints title as freshmen and claimed three more with the varsity over their careers.
This year, the win came in a drastically different boat—both in members and in expectation. The Crimson did indeed enter yesterday’s race as the No. 1 seed, but the almost guaranteed first-place finish of 2004 was no longer mentioned in reference to the 2005 group, composed of three sophomores, three juniors, and three seniors.
But that 1.14 seconds was more than enough for the heavyweight eight.
“When you’re expected to win the past couple of years, and you’re under so much pressure,” Holzapfel said, “winning can be a relief. Being a much less experienced crew and having lost such a great class of oarsmen, winning has been very special for me and has been very fun.”
The second varsity finished fifth yesterday, the third varsity and first freshman boats turned in second-place finishes, and the second freshman boat finished second.
The Harvard varsity was the lone victor for the heavyweights yesterday, but it was a fitting end to a Sprints legacy for the Harvard seniors.
With IRAs and national title talk looming on the horizon, Harvard and Princeton appear set for another showdown in Camden, N.J.
And for the Harvard varsity, the June regatta is another opportunity for a three-peat, and any margin of victory will do.
—Staff writer Aidan E. Tait can be reached at email@example.com.