CAMDEN COUNTY, N.J. — Executing freshman coach Jon Douglas's race plan to perfection, Columbia's freshman heavyweight eight reached the zenith of its season when it surged to second place in its afternoon repechage at the IRA National Championship Regatta, qualifying for Friday's national semifinals.
Although seeded just 13th of 17, the Lions upset two higher-seeded crews, Wisconsin (9th) and Syracuse (11th) to gain one of the three qualifying spots for the semifinals. Columbia rowed the Cooper River's 2000-meter course in 5:46.667, slightly more than two seconds behind 7th-seeded Boston University, but better than four competitors — Dartmouth, third in 5:47.638; Wisconsin, fourth in 5:50.891; Syracuse, fifth in 5:55.349; and Penn, sixth in 6:01.784. Dartmouth's third place also sent it to the semifinals.
"The freshmen did a great job," heavyweight head coach Mike Zimmer said. "That's the fastest they've gone this year."
Unfortunately, Zimmer's varsity eight was unable to equal its freshman counterpart. The varsity was sixth of six in the morning heat, and fifth of six in the afternoon repechage, relegating itself to Saturday's Third Level Final.
Zimmer was clearly surprised by the crew's sub-par showing. Throughout the Lions' two-week Pre-IRA camp in Vermont, the varsity had consistently beaten the freshmen. "This was the first time in two weeks," the coach said, "that the varsity was not better than the freshmen."
Douglas wasn't that surprised by the freshmen. Although they finished fifth of five in the opening heat, they were up against a tough field that included California, Cornell, B.U. and Stanford. But they followed his race plan well.
"We planned to race lower than the other boats and focus on moving the boat," he explained. "We rowed a pretty fast 1500, but lagged in the last 500. It was a solid race."
Columbia had done so well, Douglas said, "that we kept the same race plan in the afternoon."
It seemed to go well, as the Lions got off to a good start and remained no worse than second through the first 1000 meters. "We had a short lag in the third 500," Douglas admitted. "We let Dartmouth, which was rowing next to us, get four seats on us, and Wisconsin started drawing close."
But the race plan called for an all-out sprint to the finish line in the last 500, and Columbia did exactly that.
"We turned it on in the last 500," the coach said. He paused. "We were never able to execute the race plan during the season, so we concentrated on that [in Vermont]. We rowed a much more mature race."
Despite their success, the Lion freshmen have their work cut out for them in the semifinal, which begins at 11:30 a.m. They must finish in the top three of the six-boat race in order to reach the Grand Final; otherwise, they will row in the Petite Final. And their competition reads like a rowing all-star team: Princeton (seeded fourth), Navy (5th), Brown (8th), Yale (10th), and the University of California at San Diego (17th).
Columbia has to row a perfect race, Douglas said. "In the morning race, we lagged in the last 500. In the afternoon, we lagged in the third 500. In the semifinals, we can't afford any lags."
If they can do that, Mike Zimmer gives them a chance to make the Grand Final. "There's no easy semifinal at the IRA," he said, "but if we row like we did today, we have a shot."
IRA National Championship Regatta (Day One)
Thursday, June 2, 2011
Cooper River, Camden County, N.J.
Varsity Eights, Heat 3
1. Harvard, 5:33.357
2. Princeton, 5:34.743
3. Yale, 5:35.579
4. Penn, 5:42.467
5. Dartmouth, 5:46.053
6. COLUMBIA, 5:46.359
Varsity Eights, Repechage 1
1. Stanford, 5:38.000
2. Navy, 5:38.474
3. Georgetown, 5:38.780
4. Penn, 5:39.405
5. COLUMBIA, 5:51.175
6. Gonzaga, 5:55.519
Freshman Eights, Heat 3
1. Cal, 5:37.528
2. Cornell, 5:41.431
3. Boston U., 5:42.374
4. Stanford, 5:51.690
5. COLUMBIA, 5:54.123
Freshman Eights, Repechage 2
1. Boston U., 5:44.476
2. COLUMBIA, 5:46.667
3. Dartmouth, 5:47.638
4. Wisconsin, 5:50.891
5. Syracuse, 5:55.349
6. Penn, 6:01.784
Today's Boatings at the IRA Regatta
Janelle Geddes, cox; Ian Winthrop, stroke; Sam Collins, 7; Mike Donohue, 6; Ryan Jones, 5; Kyle Schmidt, 4; Noah Whitehead, 3; Charles Wu, 2; Sebastian Kirwan, bow
Seungki Lee, cox; Ben Coombs, stroke; Connor Jones, 7; Matt Lonski, 6; Clemens Auersperg, 5; John Clapp, 4; Daniel Kolbe, 3; Brent Laurint, 2; Roger Stone, bow