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Neither summer layoffs nor the departures of key seniors were enough to slow the Harvard and Radcliffe heavyweight crew teams, which returned to their winning ways on Sunday afternoon with victories in the Stonehurst Capital Invitational Regatta, co-hosted by the University of Rochester and the Rochester Institute of Technology on the Genesee River.
Both squads entered the regatta as defending champions, the Crimson having won three straight titles and the Black and White four.
“At Stonehurst, we definitely go in feeling like if we don’t win we’ve failed,” senior Jordan Sagalowsky said.
Shaking off the rust accumulated during the summer months, the Crimson used the race primarily to regain last June’s national championship form.
“Obviously it’s exciting to race again,” Sagalowsky said. “I’d say the hardest thing is getting a good feeling at a high cadence.”
Though the squad has practiced regularly, race conditions—complete with the rush of adrenaline and the pressure of competition with other boats—have been lacking.
“It’s very different from anything we can accomplish in practice,” Sagalowsky said. “We try to do time trials in practice, but its always a different feeling to be in competition. Especially in the first few competitions, each one is better than the last one.
On the water, Harvard struggled slightly in its 5000-meter head race, unable to maintain as clean and smooth a stroke as it had hoped and struggling to tame a tail wind nipping at its back.
“Last year we were a very good head-wind crew,” Sagalowsky said. “We had a little bit of trouble finding a good rhythm in the morning. We had some trouble carrying the rhythm all the way through the boat.”
But the definition of trouble for a Crimson crew differs greatly from a problem for any other boat. Harvard finished nearly 30 seconds ahead of the next closest boat.
And the afternoon sprint was even better. The Crimson crew rebounded well from its relative early morning struggles, leaving its opponents in its wake.
“We were happy we did a good job of marching through the boat next to us,” Sagalowsky said.
Harvard practices side by side racing much more than it does head racing.
“We race so much, we have such a deep program,” senior coxswain Oberst said. “The boathouse is full of four very strong boats...I think the afternoon [sprint] race is where we want to be.”
The Black and White similarly struggled primarily against itself, facing overmatched competition.
“[We] try not to be cocky,” co-captain Lis Lambert said. “But recognize that we’re competing against Division III schools.”
Like Harvard, Radcliffe took advantage of the opportunity to square off against opposing crews to recreate the intangible rush of emotions that can’t be captured in practice.
“It’s a great rehearsal for [this weekend’s] Head of the Charles,” Lambert said. “There’s a feeling that you get on race day, when you’ve got officials and people you don’t know in the boat next to you.”
Despite the unusual quiet of the first two miles of the course, the Black and White avoided the Crimson’s stumbles during the head race, stringing together a high-cadence performance all the way through despite the tail wind.
Unlike Harvard, the women’s crew struggled on its sprint, lacking the crispness displayed in the longer race due to fatigue. With the 5000-meter race earlier in the day, the Black and White simply had less in the tank.
“[The head race] was more consistent and powerful,” Lambert said. “The sprint piece was tough. It was a hard race. We didn’t have the sense of control or ownership we had with the head piece.”
It won’t be sprints, but head races that count this weekend as both Harvard and Radcliffe take to the waters once more for the Head of the Charles.
“I think that this [head] piece that we did yesterday was actually fabulous [and shows] that we’re capable of putting together a great race,” Lambert said. “With a little kick of adrenaline and excitement, we’re going to have an awesome, awesome time on Sunday.”
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at email@example.com.
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