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Though the Charles River remained sheathed in ice until three weeks ago, the Harvard and Northeastern heavyweight crew teams have turned the heat way up on their perennial rivalry.
While the battle for “fastest crew on the Charles” spices up the race between the Crimson and the Huskies every year, the bizarre alleged assault on Harvard sophomore Malcolm Howard on March 8 adds extra intensity.
“There’s always a lot of rivalry between us because we train on the same river,” said junior stroke Kip McDaniel. “No one’s going to deny that this adds a little more fuel to the fire.”
Howard suffered severe facial injuries as a result of an apparent attack that occurred after a charity auction at the Weld Boathouse with rowers from both Harvard and Northeastern. Two Northeastern students will be arraigned on charges in connection with the incident, one for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and the other for larceny. Both rowers have been suspended, and as a result, there will not be a JV race between the two schools this Sunday. Events will be limited to the varsity eight and four as well as freshmen races.
Jibes and message board challenges usually flutter between rowers from both schools, including typical boasts of superiority and specific questioning of Harvard’s past top ranking in the country, since the Crimson never races powerhouse Cal-Berkeley. However, thus far, few taunts have been exchanged.
“Because the rowing world is so small, we all have friends on [Northeastern’s team],” McDaniel said. “I think it’s been especially silent because of what happened.”
While Harvard is favored according to preseason polls, the Huskies have faired better on the Charles recently. Northeastern placed third in the Championship Eight in the Head of the Charles Regatta last fall, behind the U.S. National team and Wisconsin. The Crimson finished fifth.
“That was disappointing in the fall, but the Head races are very different from the [2000-meter] races,” McDaniel said.
The Huskies are an appropriate first opponent for Harvard, as both teams have had to contend with a late start on the water due to ice. The frozen conditions had forced Boston teams to train indoors in tanks and on machines until just over three weeks ago.
“I think the indoor training has actually helped us in terms of fitness and power,” McDaniel said.
While more time for strength and conditioning can be seen as a positive across the board, the frozen river does pose problems—like icebergs.
“One of the risks of rowing on the river when there’s still ice on it is that our boat can hit a floating chunk of ice,” said junior Jen Shaw. “It’s especially hard because the ice chunks are moving on the river and they reflect the sky so they blend into the river, and it’s dark when you’re going under a bridge.”
As the Black and White boat pulled under Anderson bridge, a chunk of ice scraped its side near the stern.
“Everyone heard it, but we weren’t sure if it was a hole or scrape,” Shaw said.
However, when the eight rowed out of the bridge, the water that climbed to the rim of the boat at the five and six seats left no doubts about the damage.
“There was ice in the boat, so I pulled it out and found that my hand was sticking through a hole in the boat,” Shaw said.
Luckily, Radcliffe coach Liz O’Leary was nearby on a launch and the rowers abandoned ship—except for sophomore Gretchen Weingarth and junior Anna McLoon, who rowed the distressed boat back to the dock.
Tomorrow, the Black and White, ranked 12th in Wednesday’s Collegiate Rowing Coaches Poll, cannot afford holes in its boats or its performance as it hosts No. 6 Brown and Penn.
Though the Bears have had a little more time on the water, Radcliffe co-captain Sarah Psutka does not see that as a major advantage.
“Our team has made the best of what time we’ve had on the water,” Psutka said. “I think that we’re looking at this race as a good opportunity to see exactly how fast we are within our league.”
The Black and White was supposed to open its season against Rutgers, Northeastern and Boston College last weekend, but coaches agreed to postpone the race until May 10.
“The coaches decided to postpone that race because [the] Northeastern and Radcliffe [results are] really important in terms of regional qualifiers and rankings,” Psutka said. “We wanted to make sure that both of our teams were in top form for that.”
The Harvard lightweight crew team is also looking forward to seeing how it matches up in its first races, at Penn tomorrow and against Georgetown at Mercer County on Sunday.
“We don’t really have any way to judge the speed of other crews right now relative to ourselves,” said lightweight captain Nick Blannin. “We certainly have a much deeper team this year. We’ve really got some high expectations for ourselves on all levels.”
—Staff writer Jessica T. Lee can be reached at email@example.com.
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