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It's been a long time since the Harvard crews have driven home from Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester, MA with an Eastern Sprints title in their pockets.
Harvard has historically dominated Sprints, with the Harvard crews each registering 21 first-place finishes in the event's 48-year history. Recently, however, Sprints success stories have been a problem. The Harvard lightweights last brought home a Sprints title in 1991, while the heavies last tasted Sprints victory in 1990.
Strangely, the Crimson crews have been successful elsewhere on the crew scene, compiling three national championship titles since the 1991 race. But those Eastern Sprints championships have proved darn elusive.
The Harvard crews have the opportunity to rectify the situation this weekend. Both crews will return to magnificent Worcester, MA to participate in the 49th running of EARC (Eastern) Sprints.
The Harvard lightweights--who are seeded third--will face Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth, Cornell, Navy, Georgetown, Penn, Rutgers, Columbia and MIT. The Harvard heavyweights--who are seeded fourth--have Brown, Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth, Navy, MIT, Penn, Cornell, Rutgers, B.U., Northeastern, Syracuse and Columbia on the docket.
Each weight class is divided into two morning heats and an afternoon final. The conference coaches' poll decides heat assignments, with both crews in the same heat as Princeton this year. The top three teams from each heat compete in the afternoon finale, which both Harvard crews traditionally glide into.
The lightweights' plan is to come out swinging and then solidify its lead in the middle distances. The heavyweights are test-driving a new shell from Vespuli. (When you're mythical coach Harry Parker, $25,000 pieces of fiberglass just fall into your hands).
"In the afternoon, we're looking to attack right away and be more aggressive than we have been in the past," lightweight captain Chris Schulte said. "We have the confidence that if it's close in the middle in the race that we have the speed to move away from the other boats."
"We've had the chance to try out the new shell in the last week," heavyweight captain Elijah White said. "We think it's as fast if not faster than our old one.
The Harvard lightweight boats blew through the regular season until the final dual-meet race; the Crimson little boat used early season victory at the San Diego Crew Classic as a springboard to four consecutive dual-meet triumphs.
The Harvard heavyweights' season has had one spectacular highlight so far. The Crimson big boat shocked Brown--unquestionably the crew to beat over the past two seasons--on the Charles April 15.
Both teams have their share of bleak spots this season and, hence, both have something to prove at Eastern Sprints. The heavies have had the most trouble: second-place at San Diego and dualmeet losses to Princeton and Navy. The lights have only one blemish in six races: a surprising victimization at the hands of Princeton and Yale.
"We've gotten used to our [new] line-up in the last two weeks and have gotten in some very hard race training," seven-man White said. "We are a better crew than we were two weeks ago."
"We've come a long way in the last few weeks," coxswain Schulte said. "We're really looking forward to Sprints as a chance to prove ourselves."
Last year, the Crimson heavyweights placed third at Sprints, three seconds behind Brown and Dartmouth. The lightweights fared far worse: a fifth-place finish almost 18 seconds off the pace.
All of that seems unimportant now. The Crimson is concentrating on the race at hand.
"We're mentally preparing for the hardest race of the season," White said. "Any crew there will need a very good race to beat us. We aren't conceding anything to anyone. We feel we can win and we're going there to do so."
"We've had two weeks to put it together," Schulte said. "We've had good parts of races, and we've been happy with most of our results. Hopefully, we'll put it all together and [Sprints] will sort of be the icing on the cake."
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