LEONIA, N.J. -- The brilliant sunlight which reflected off Overpeck Lake, Columbia's newest rowing venue, was matched by the brilliance of the Columbia varsity lightweight eight in posting a stunning victory over Navy Saturday.
Columbia defeated the Navy eight by more than two full lengths of open water, 6:30.2 to 6:44.4. The Lion varsity was nearly joined in the winner's circle by their second varsity and freshman eight counterparts; the freshmen lost to the Midshipmen by just one foot, 6:32.3 to 6:32.7, while the second varsity fell to the Middies by 2.3 seconds, 6:27.1 to 6:29.4.
"We had a pretty good week of practice," head lightweights coach Scott Alwin said. "We held three practices here at Overpeck."
Alwin's varsity eight had disappointed in its northern opener the previous week against Princeton and Georgetown, especially in its rowing during the second 500-meter segment of the 2000-meter race.
"After last week, we knew we needed to fix our second 500," Alwin said. "This week, we practiced moves, and did pieces with the heavyweights before coming over here."
Although Overpeck Lake is a perfect rowing site, it was battered by a strong crossing headwind Saturday. That created a choppy, bumpy rowing surface for the crews, but the Lions handled it well.
"They rowed a mature race," Alwin noted. "In spite of the conditions, they remained calm."
Columbia got off to a good start in the varsity race, the final one of the regatta. In just 30 strokes, it had gained a few seats on Navy. The Lions held that lead into the critical second 500 meters, where they showed the effects of the week's practicing by opening the lead to open water (more than a full boat length), and then by extending it still further.
Just after the midway point of the race, Navy made its move. It brought the Middies back into contention, but had little effect on the Lions.
"We stayed calm," Alwin said. "We handled it. When we made our move in the third 500, it proved very effective."
For the final 500-700 meters, Columbia maintained a sizable open-water lead. With 200 or 250 meters to go, the Midshipmen caught a full crab, causing the shell to come to a full stop. They then re-started, and sprinted for the finish.
Some observers thought that Navy might have created a close finish if not for the crab, but many others agreed with Alwin, who said that the crab "did not decide the race. We had the race."
The Lion second varsity demonstrated some weakness in its second 500 meters. That's when Navy pulled into the lead.
"It was frustrating," the coach recalled. "We stayed right with Navy, we never let them go, but we never could come back into the lead. We made progress, but we definitely need work on the second 500."
As close as the second varsity race was, the freshman eights event was even closer.
Despite a rough start, Columbia hit a smooth pace after the first 500.
"We executed the middle 1000 meters really well," freshman coach Nich Parker said. "We made a couple of moves, we walked back up."
In the last 500 meters, he noted, "We had a chance to win, but we made our move a little too late, just 10 seconds after Navy's." Still, the Mids couldn't pull away.
"The last 300 was exciting," Parker said. "They led us that whole way by just one foot!" Despite the loss, he said, "they guys were happy with the race. They learned from this race."
Columbia returns to Overpeck next Saturday for the Dodge Cup regatta with Yale and Penn.
Among the crowd on hand in Overpeck Park was alumni activist and former lightweight oarsman Jim Weinstein '84CC, who was marking an unusual anniversary.
On April 7, 1982, thirty years ago to the day, Weinstein, then a sophomore, celebrated his first collegiate victory when his junior varsity eight defeated none other than Navy, on the Midshipmen's famed Severn River course.
Columbia vs. Navy
April 7, 2012
Overpeck Lake, Leonia, N.J.
1. Columbia, 6:30.2
2. Navy, 6:44.4
Second Varsity Eights
1. Navy, 6:27.1
2. Columbia, 6:29.4
3. Navy 3V, 6:45.7
1. Navy, 6:32.3
2. Columbia, 6:32.7
1. Navy B, 7:33.7
2. Navy A, 7:34.9
3. Columbia, 7:56.6
Stone Cao, cox; Daniel Kirrane, stroke; Bruno Salemme, 7; John O'Mara, 6; James Kahmann, 5; John Hold, 4; Curtis Kachline, 3; Noah Buckley, 2; James Winford, bow
Second Varsity Eight
Erica Cunningham, cox; Roger Stone, stroke; Graham Pupo, 7; Blake Pinell, 6; Lane Brokaw, 5; Connor Dougherty, 4; John Zucchi, 3; Anders Smedsrud, 2; Chris Hatzis, bow
Logan Pirkl, cox; Griffin Whitlock, stroke; Ben Blair, 7; Fredrik Aasaaren, 6; Travis Simon, 5; Charlie Stigler, 4; Max Segall, 3; Thabet Mahayni, 2; Matt Bellesheim, bow
Varsity Four A
Marial Quezada, cox; Moyo Ajayi, stroke; Brian McGrattan, 3; Paul Nungesser, 2; Darius Grayer, bow