SEASON RECAP: After Years of Dominance, Harvard Misses Podium

Crimson varsity eight fails to win national title for first time in four years

DIFFERENT STROKES
Alexandra C. Bell

Harvard made all kinds of history in 2005-06, but not in the way it hoped. The Crimson varsity eight snapped several win streaks during the dual season but failed to capture titles at Eastern Sprints and IRAs.

The Crimson heavyweight crew is a powerhouse known for making history, and the 2006 team did not disappoint.

Unfortunately for Harvard, the team repeatedly found itself on a side of history it would rather not occupy, as the Crimson became known for snapping historic winning streaks and failing to replicate the winning formula of years past.

The year started encouragingly, with Harvard capturing its sixth straight win at the Stonehurst Regatta and then returning home for a resoundingly successful performance at the Head of the Charles.

The Stonehurst winning streak, however, would prove to be one of the few that the Crimson would be able to maintain over the course of its season.

Five years of perfect dual races came to an end in the Stein Cup, as Harvard suffered a heartbreakingly close, one-seat loss to the Bears. The Crimson had come from behind to erase an early Brown six-seat lead and even take a three-seat advantage of its own, but Brown made a surge of its own at the last possible moment to spoil what would have been Harvard’s 25th straight victory.

“Losing is never fun, no matter what the streak or the history,” captain four-seat Morgan Henderson said at the time. “We’re using this to build on.”

The team, however, ultimately proved unable to build on the loss, as the disappointment of ending a five-year winning streak would be dwarfed by the events of the following week, when Harvard lost to Princeton for the first time on the Charles in coach Harry Parker’s 43-year tenure.

While the Crimson entered the race as the underdog, it still had a considerable amount of tradition on its side. And even though Harvard enjoyed a three-seat lead for the first half of the race, the Tigers eventually pulled ahead for a 3.2-second victory, beating Harvard by a full boat length.

“It’s going to be different this year,” said Henderson of his team’s struggles. “We haven’t been as dominant as we were last year so early on in the season. The season is definitely progressing slightly differently than it did last year.”

The troubles—and broken streaks—continued several weeks later at Eastern Sprints, where the varsity eight failed to capture first place for the first time in three years.

Fortunately for the Crimson, the second varsity crew picked up the slack, coming from behind to secure the Rowe Cup.

Following the Rowe Cup win, the crew appeared to be back on the right path, coasting to an easy victory over Navy and Penn and then blazing past Northeastern on choppy waters for another victory the following week.

Any forward progress, however, came to a crashing halt at the season-ending Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championships (IRAs), where Harvard snapped yet another streak—its three-year run of national-title victories.

At first it appeared as if the Crimson might be able to salvage its streak of championship gold, as the race was relatively close at the outset.

“[We’d] been concentrating on trying to start fast early on, and I feel we did pretty well,” sophomore stroke George Kitovitz said. “We stayed with the other teams for most of the race; there weren’t more than three or four seconds between all the boats.”

Despite the close race, however, Harvard ultimately came in fourth behind California, Princeton, and Brown. The streak—and the season—was history.

“We can’t help but feel disappointed,” Kitovitz said. “Since Harvard had won the last three years, as much as the streak had to finally end, it’s just a shame to be a part of that.”

—Staff writer Daniel J. Rubin-Wills can be reached at drubin@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Aidan E. Tait can be reached at atait@fas.harvard.edu.

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