It was the year they were supposed to be vulnerable, but the Harvard heavyweights were invincible again. The Crimson varsity took home its third straight national title on Saturday afternoon, defeating Princeton for the third time this year with a 1.3-second victory at IRAs.
This time around, Harvard had every reason to have a mediocre year: the top two varsity boats lost 13 oarsmen from 2004, only two people remained from the dominant varsity boat from the year before, and Princeton, Washington, or Cal looked poised to take Harvard’s place at the IRA winner’s dock.
Mediocrity, however, seems to have no place in Newell Boathouse. The young varsity crew, anchored by three-time national title winners Aaron Holzapfel and Malcolm Howard, finished off 2005 with an undefeated dual season, a third consecutive Eastern Sprints title, and yet another gold medal at IRAs.
“[Coach Harry Parker] told us that we’ve beaten Princeton before,” said senior seven-seat Malcolm Howard, “and that we could do it again if we had a good race.”
The Crimson wasted no time asserting its longstanding dominance over Princeton, taking down the Tigers in a dramatic semifinal win on Friday.
In that race, Harvard took a one-seat lead from Princeton just after the start.
In the teams’ previous meetings—a dual race at Lake Carnegie and the Eastern Sprints final—Harvard had been unable to take any sort of early lead.
And once they grabbed that seat advantage on Friday, the heavyweights never let it up.
Princeton could make up no ground on the Crimson boat, and Harvard kept up enough pressure to preserve the one-seat lead throughout the course.
The Crimson took the semifinal win in 5:51.77, and Princeton finished at 5:51.96.
“I think the semi discouraged them because we only got a seat in front of them and they didn’t move the whole race,” Howard said. “I think they were worried that if they ever gave anything up, they wouldn’t be able to get it back.”
That performance set the stage for Saturday’s final, where Harvard faced Princeton and unfamiliar West Coast powerhouses Cal and Washington.
“The semi was basically Eastern Sprints and Pac-10s, part two,” sophomore varsity two-seat Andrew Boston said. “We had no idea how fast Cal and Washington were.”
Harvard, Princeton, Cal, and Washington spent the first 500 meters battling for the early advantage.
“We really thought Cal and Princeton were just going to go nuts from the start,” Howard said. “And we were ready for it.”
Harvard stayed even with both Washington and Princeton as the boats headed toward the midway mark. Cal seized a lead early in the second 500 meters and continued to increase the margin.
“It was a little nerve-racking going into the second five hundred,” Howard said. “We knew Cal was in front of us, we were neck and neck with Washington and Princeton maybe a little bit up.”
Cal established as much as a seven-seat lead before the Crimson made a push after the halfway mark. Washington began to fade at the 1,000, and Princeton and Harvard battled yet again.
Both boats used the bow ball to bow ball race to edge up on first-place Cal, which never established an open-water advantage.
“Cal was unable to get open water which was huge psychologically,” Boston said. “Keeping contact with the boat, we were able to push back through them.”
Harvard and Princeton drew even with Cal with about 600 meters to go, and then, with 400 meters to go, Harvard surged forward for its third consecutive national title.
“We had been ready to put together a really good sprint,” Howard said. “And we did it.”
“When it gets to be time for business,” Boston added, “it’s time for business.”
The Crimson finished in 5:31.68, Princeton followed in 5:32.94, and Cal took home third place in 5:35.9.
It was Harvard’s closest win at IRAs in the three-year run—the Crimson won by open water the two times before—but the three-seat win was more than plenty for a crew that entered the season at No. 4.
“Before the race,” Howard said, “I thought that no matter what, we’ve proven ourselves this year and we’re a champion crew.”
They proved themselves again on Saturday, and now Howard and company can add the word “national” to their champion crew label.
—Staff writer Aidan E. Tait can be reached at email@example.com.