Columbia's three rowing programs -- the men's heavyweights and lightweights, and the women's crew -- all entered eight-oared shells in the 44th running of the world's largest regatta. The women turned in the best performance; in fact, as head coach Scott Ramsey noted, the finest ever for a Columbia Women's eight at the regatta.
Although starting the Women's Championship Eights race 22nd of 40 entrants, Columbia made up 11 places to finish 11th, in a time of 17:15.24. The Lions' time was sixth-best among all university entries, and third-fastest among Ivy League schools, behind only Princeton and Radcliffe.
"We had a great piece today," Ramsey said. "We rowed an excellent race."
Columbia attacked the river and the other boats from the start.
"They were aggressive," Ramsey recalled. "They rowed a very good race from the first stroke through the entire course."
That they navigated the often-challenging Charles River course so well was a tribute to first-year coxswain Aneesha Baliga.
Appearing in her first collegiate race ever, and possibly her first on the Charles, Baliga took charge of her boat of veterans and piloted them through crowded waters.
"She's just a 17-year old coxswain, in a boat of upperclassmen," Ramsey said. "She steered an excellent course."
Although starting 22nd, Columbia passed two boats early at the Powerhouse, giving her room to steer a wider course. Baliga, a Californian, took full advantage. "She steered well and called a great race," the coach noted. "She performed at a high level in a high pressure situation. She stepped up."
While Baliga and her teammates were elated at their fine showing, they hardly were satisfied.
"The team was excited about today," Ramsey said, "but this team wants to win. They're already looking forward to the Princeton Chase next week. They want to do even better there."
Unlike Ramsey's crew, men's lightweight coach Scott Alwin had an experienced coxswain in Stone Cao for Columbia's entry in the Men's Lightweight Eights. Cao, a junior, represented just one-third of the Lions' Head of the Charles experience, though.
"We had to replace seven of the nine people who rowed for us in last year's regatta," Alwin said. "Only three had ever competed in this event -- John O'Mara and Stone Cao from last year, and John Hold from two years ago."
Normally, Alwin said, the lightweights aspire to be up with the best finishers. "With this team, however, 11th place is okay. When I included two freshmen and a sophomore in the stern four, I knew that this race would be more for experience than for a top finish."
The freshmen, stroke Colin Ross and Jacob Buczek in the fifth seat, occupied key roles in the craft. True, Ross had stroked the varsity eight at his high school, St. Albans School in Washington, D.C., but since the crew there only had a spring season, Ross never had the opportunity to row in the Head of the Charles. In fact, Columbia's appearance in the Head of the Passaic in New Jersey last week was Ross's first head race ever!
"We asked a lot of Colin," the coach noted. "He did a very good job."
In fact, the Lion eight turned in a credible showing despite its inexperience. Columbia placed 11th of 18, in a time of 15:28.22.
"The time is pretty good," Alwin said. "It's not that far off the times of the other Ivy League schools." Actually, Columbia placed better than Penn, Dartmouth and a highly-regarded Georgetown eight.
The men's heavyweight eight, rowing in the Men's Championship race, did not have a good day. Although the Lions beat several crews in placing 21st of 28, their time was a disappointing 15:33.54.
"This was not a good row," head coach Mike Zimmer said. "This was an erg boat, we based our lineup on the results of an ergometer test. They did not row a bad race, but it was a slow one."
Zimmer and his staff will use this week to reconstruct their lineup.
"We'll re-do our lineup for next week's Princeton Chase," he explained. "There are a lot of competitive guys on our team. We'll do better next week with a different lineup."
All three programs will compete next Sunday in the Princeton Chase, also a head-style race, on Princeton's Lake Carnegie.
----More than a score of Columbia and Barnard alumni competed in various club and Masters events at the Head of the Charles, mostly on Saturday. An article on their efforts will be posted later this week.
The Head of the Charles Regatta (three-mile head races)
Saturday/Sunday, October 20-21, 2012
Charles River, Boston, Mass.
Event 48 - Men's Championship Eights
Columbia, 21st of 28, 15:33.54
Event 54 - Men's Eights
Columbia, 11th of 18, 15:28.22
Event 49 - Women's Championship Eights
Columbia, 11th of 40, 17:15.24
Andrew Lake, cox; Sam Collins, stroke; Connor Jones, 7; Charles Wu, 6; Clemens Auersperg, 5; Matt Ridgeway, 4; Mike Donohue, 3; Noah Whitehead, 2; Josh Fram, bow
Stone Cao, cox; Colin Ross, stroke; Travis Simon, 7; John O'Mara, 6; Jacob Buczek, 5; John Hold, 4; John Zucchi, 3; Matt Bellesheim, 2; Roger Stone, bow
Aneesha Baliga, cox; Rebecca Randall, stroke; Fiona Duffy, 7; Samantha Warren, 6; Alexandra Delaney, 5; Karli McMenamin, 4; Hilary Going, 3; Nikki Bourassa, 2; Lottie Galliano, bow