WEST WINDSOR, N.J. -- Coming off a strong showing in the opening heat of the IRA National Championship regatta, Columbia's varsity eight-oared shell excelled in the repechage, besting three other crews from all corners of the nation, to advance to the top-rated A/B semifinals.
After giving favored Northeastern a real battle for second place in the heat, the Lions defeated Oregon State, Florida Institute of Technology and the University of San Diego in the "rep". The second varsity and freshman eights also competed; all advanced to Saturday morning competition on Mercer Lake.
"The varsity eight was definitely our highlight of the day," head coach Scott Alwin said, particularly in the repechage, a second-stage race that follows the opening heats.
Columbia was seeded 11th in the coaches' voting, barely ahead of Oregon State's 15th. FIT was further back, seeded 20th, but Alwin had learned to be wary of the Knights.
"FIT is a good program," he noted. "I have a lot of respect for them. I'm never comfortable lining up against them; I'm always wary."
As Columbia jumped off the starting line, Alwin marveled at his far-flung opponents. "We're facing teams from Oregon, California and Florida, and not one is from an EARC school. It's kind of odd, but it's fun."
It wasn't that much fun at first, as Oregon State took the early lead, with FIT strongly in the mix. But Columbia soon moved to the front, opening up a considerable margin over the others by the halfway point of the 1000-meter course.
FIT, however, refused to yield. The Knights from Melbourne, Fla., had given the Lions fits when they rowed as guests in the Maxwell Stevenson Cup, finishing just 1.7 seconds behind Columbia. In the repechage, they kept the pressure on, drawing within hailing distance twice in the closing 250 meters. The Lion rowers would not give up the lead, though.
"I'm proud of our team for taking charge and managing the lead," Alwin said.
Columbia won by 2.1 seconds in 5:40.610 to FIT's 5:42.770, with OSU right behind in 5:43.249. The repechage victory gave Columbia entry to Saturday's A/B (aka 1/2) semifinals. Only crews competing in an A or B semifinal are eligible to reach a Grand Final or Petite Final.
The Lions had reached the repechage with a solid showing in their opening heat. Matched against third-seeded Harvard and sixth-seeded Northeastern, plus Ivy League rival Penn, they overcame a shaky start to give Northeastern's Huskies all they could handle.
Although Harvard had taken the early lead, the Lions and Huskies went back and forth through the first half. Trailing by just four or five seats in the third 500, Columbia hit a slight "bobble," as the coach called it, just the opening Northeastern needed to go ahead.
Once they saw they could not catch the Huskies, the Lions wisely throttled down, just making sure they remained ahead of the three other teams -- Penn, Drexel and Hobart.
Harvard won the heat in 5:40.204, with Northeastern second in 5:42.555 and Columbia third in 5:50.230.
"The margin between us and Northeastern did not reflect the nature of the race," Alwin noted. "We wisely saved our energy in the last 250 for the next races. We just made sure we remained in third."
Columbia will row into the mouth of the volcano, as it were, in Saturday's semifinal. The Lions will be up against Washington, Cal and Brown, ranked first, second and fourth in the nation. Northeastern and Navy round out the formidable field.
What can Columbia hope to do? "If everything was perfect," Alwin said, "we could hope to make the Grand Final. We'd have to finish in the top three in the semifinal to do that."
The Lions' other two entrants also will row Saturday. The second varsity eight will try to rebound from a sub-par opening day when it competes in the Semifinal 3 against Syracuse, Dartmouth, San Diego, Stanford, and Hobart.
The freshman eight, in only their second week together -- Columbia did not field a freshman eight during the season -- rowed well in its opening heat against Cal (seeded 2nd), Wisconsin (3rd) and Brown (6th). They'll row in their repechage Saturday morning vs. Brown, Penn, and Harvard.
"We put together a boat with both heavyweights and lightweights," the coach said. "It's fun to race together like that. They didn't even start rowing until a week, 10 days ago, but they get better every time they touch the water."
The freshmen will begin Columbia's Saturday rowing when they compete at 9:30 a.m. The varsity eight is tentatively scheduled to go at 11:15 or 11:30, with the second varsity eight rowing at 12:15 or 12:30.
IRA National Men's Rowing Championships
Day One, Friday, May 30, 2014
Mercer Lake, West Windsor, N.J.
Note: only the events in which Columbia participated are listed
Varsity Eights - Repechage (2)
1. COLUMBIA, 5:40.610
2. FIT, 5:42.770
3. Oregon State, 5:43.249
4. U. of San Diego, 5:55.885
Varsity Eights - Opening Heat (2)
1. Harvard, 5:40.204
2. Northeastern, 5:42.555
3. COLUMBIA, 5:50.230
4. Penn, 5:54.354
5. Drexel, 5:55.889
6. Hobart, 6:01.961
Second Varsity Eights - Repechage (2)
1. Yale, 5:46.333
2. Harvard, 5:48.524
3. COLUMBIA, 5:57.678
4. FIT, 5:59.497
Second Varsity Eights - Opening Heat (3)
1. Princeton, 5:44.852
2. Navy, 5:49.227
3. Syracuse, 5:52.289
4. COLUMBIA, 5:53.871
5. Hobart, 6:08.223
6. Holy Cross, 6:08.416
Freshman Eights - Opening Heat (1)
1. California, 5:47.597
2. Wisconsin, 5:49.170
3. Brown, 5:51.106
4. George Washington, 6:12.038
5. COLUMBIA, 6:20.644
6. Drexel, 6:22.081
Today's Columbia Boatings:
Colin Keane, cox; Emmett Gross, stroke; Connor Jones, 7; Buck Goggin, 6; Alex Barkume, 5; Clemens Auersperg, 4; Ben Coombs, 3; Josh Fram, 2; Matt Ridgeway, bow
Second Varsity Eight
Daniel Hong, cox; Elliot Meade, stroke; Andrew Bair, 7; Daniel Kolbe, 6; Connor Coughlin, 5; Christian Aral, 4; Jonathon Rosow, 3; Sam Harris, 2; John Clapp, bow
Oliver Jennings, cox; Killian Brackey, stroke; Max Fenner, 7; Tucker Klutey, 6; Alastair Clements, 5; Eitan Rothman, 4; Oliver Grüeterich, 3; John Sluis, 2; Ryan Madani, bow