History has, by and large, been nothing but kind to the Harvard crew program, but it did the Crimson no favors on Sunday afternoon at Lake Quinsigamond.
The Harvard heavyweight varsity eight missed the Grand Final for the first time in 44 years, while their lightweight counterparts also came up empty in the morning heats, falling short of the Grand Final for the first time in over six decades.
The early morning results—the Crimson heavyweights finished third in their heat, coming in behind Princeton and Yale, with only the top two boats qualifying for the final, and the lightweights finished fourth with the top three boats advancing—put a damper on a regatta that Harvard has dominated in recent years.
“It’s pretty tough—it was really disappointing,” said Jeff Overington, five-seat of the varsity lightweight eight. “But I think it’s impressive that Harvard has such a good record. Most other teams have good and bad performances at Eastern Sprints, and Harvard has consistently been really good. But it’s disappointing to not continue that historical performance.”
Both the varsity lightweight eight and the heavyweight varsity finished second in their respective petite finals, while the Crimson second heavyweight varsity boat peered headed for a gold medal before an oarsman caught a crab in the last strokes of the race. The second varsity finished second, Harvard’s third and fourth varsity heavyweight eights finished one-two in the third varsity final and both freshman heavyweight eights won gold. The lightweights went without a medal in the top two races for the third straight year but captured bronze in the second freshman eight event.
The heavyweight varsity eight entered Eastern Sprints as reigning champion of five of the last six Eastern Sprints titles, including a gold medal-finish last year.
Harvard was No. 3 in the EARC going into Sunday, with Brown (No. 1) and Wisconsin (No. 2) seeded in front of the Crimson. Wisconsin eventually bested Brown by a boat length in the Grand Final, while No. 3 Harvard had to settle for a second-place finish behind Navy in the petite final.
The Crimson finished a very close third in its morning heat, with the top two boats from each of three heavyweight varsity heats making up the six-boat final. Harvard fought back from an early deficit to Princeton and Yale off the start—half a boat length and two seats, respectively—to make for a dramatic final 500 meters.
“Our race plan was to sick with the pack and then either battle it out over the middle of the race, or if it comes down to the sprint give everything in the last couple hundred meters,” heavyweight varsity five-seat Simon Gawlik said. “The way that the season has been, I was expecting a really tough race from the start all the way to the line, and that’s just what it turned out to be.”
The Crimson used the second 1000 meters of the heat to pull almost even with Yale before beginning the sprint in the last 500 meters, trying to eek out a second-place finish and a ticket to the grand finals.
When Harvard kicked up the rating, however, both Princeton and Yale responded.
The Crimson briefly captured a two-seat lead over the Bulldogs in the closing meters of the race, but Yale stormed back to steal second with a 0.6-second margin over Harvard.
“We were already sprinting and the problem was that we left room for the other teams to counter our move,” Gawlik said. “The line was really just five strokes too far away for us.”
And a boat that had found its greatest success in its final sprint—the Crimson varsity snatched wins over Princeton and Northeastern by overtaking both boats in the final 20 strokes of the race during the dual season—came up just short when it mattered most.
“We sprinted, they sprinted, and they were able to hold us off,” senior stroke George Kitovitz said. “It was good in the past that we could rely on our sprint, but we need to make the difference earlier in the race.”
Harvard was sent to its first consolation final since 1964—Harry Parker’s second season at the helm in Newell Boathouse.
The Crimson finished second—eighth overall—in the petite final, coming in with a time of 6:14.32, just over one seat behind Navy’s winning time of 6:13.69.
The second heavyweight varsity eight, the EARC’s No. 1 boat, fell to Wisconsin for the second straight year, felled by a caught crab in the final 20 strokes of the race. The Badgers crossed the line with a time of 6:17.21, just 0.2 seconds—a bow ball’s distance—before the Crimson finished in 6:17.43, despite having caught a crab during the furious fight to the finish.
Crimson’s third and fourth varsity entries grabbed gold and silver, respectively, in the third varsity final.
A Lake Quinsigamond that was unkind to the Harvard heavyweights was no friendlier to the Crimson lightweights, who have struggled at Sprints since sweeping gold in the two varsity races in 2005.
Both lightweight varsity endured a long dual season, as Harvard looked to integrate 11 sophomores into the top two varsity eights. The Crimson won just one dual race in both varsity eights this spring (over Penn), its two boats trying to overcome the graduation of a deep and talented 2007 class.
“I’m sure some alumni might be a little upset, but I think on the whole the team has done a great job this year,” said captain and second varsity seven-seat Pat Mulcahy said. “In that sense, a lot of responsibility in that sense has been thrust on a very young group, and it’s tough to step up like that without that much upper class leadership and I think they’ve done an outstanding job.”
The lightweight varsity eight finished fourth in its opening heat, crossing in a time of 6:15.64, with Princeton, Cornell, and Dartmouth claiming the top three spots and a place in the afternoon final.
“We were consistently a few seats down from Dartmouth, and we tried to fight back throughout the course,” Overington said. “We tried to move but we couldn’t—we just weren’t moving.”
The second varsity eight finished fourth in its heat as well.
Faced with a deflating trip to the consolation race, both boat bounced back with positive showings in the petite final, as the first varsity captured second place (eighth overall) and the second varsity won the consolation race (seventh overall).
“We would obviously have liked to do better, but I think it’s unfair to chalk up a whole season’s worth of work into one six-minute piece,” Mulcahy said. “There’s a whole lot more that goes into it.”
Two-time defending national Cornell captured the varsity title for the second time in three years, while Navy won the second varsity race.
Harvard’s second freshman eight made it to the winner’s dock, capturing a bronze medal. The first freshman eight took seventh overall with a win in the petite final, while the third varsity eight finished fifth.
“[Sunday] was a good wake-up call,” Mulcahy said. “We saw that you really just have to be at your best in the heat and then again in the final. Yesterday we weren’t quite there--but I think we’ve made progress since the dual season ended and I think that experience will help out in the end.”
—Staff writer Aidan E. Tait can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.