WORCESTER, MASS. -- Three times a Columbia men's lightweight eight came to the starting line in opening heats of the 2013 Eastern Sprints, and all three times those eights advanced to a Grand Final. With the varsity eight's advance to its Grand Final came an added bonus -- a trip to the National Lightweight Championship June 2 in Sacramento.
    
"Making those Grand Finals was really important," head coach Scott Alwin said. "We've been talking about the Eastern Sprints all year. We had a lot of expectations."
    
A year ago, Columbia athletes and fans had been hoping to make the Grand Finals. This year, though, they were looking further ahead, to winning races or earning medals.
    
Although the Lions did not win any races, and just missed two medals, twice finishing fourth in Grand Finals, Alwin marveled at the difference a year made,
    
"What a change!" he said. "[The members of] all three lightweight boats expected to win. All three were talking about medaling or winning. It almost takes the sting out of not earning medals."
    
Both the first varsity and third varsity eights were impressive in the morning heats, finishing second. In the afternoon Grand Finals, the Lion first varsity held off Princeton and Cornell, both ranked higher, and came within 3.4 seconds of overtaking Dartmouth for third.
The third varsity eight finished 2.4 seconds behind third-place Harvard, with a bronze medal at stake.
    
"Dartmouth was really underrated this year," Alwin said. "I felt fortunate to beat them in the regular season in the Subin Cup. They beat us today, but we'll look to win the 'series' at the National Championships in two weeks."
    
Although they didn't win any medals at the Sprints, the Lions did return with some "hardware". By beating Cornell in the varsity eight Grand Final, with MIT only making the Petite Final, Columbia earned the 2013 Geiger Cup.
    
The Cup goes to the varsity eights winner of a regatta among the Big Red, the Engineers and the Lions, but was not contested at this year's regatta in April because MIT was absent due to complications surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing. The coaches voted to award the 2013 Geiger Cup to the highest finisher of the three at the Eastern Sprints.
    
"We returned to New York tonight with neither shirts nor medals," Alwin said, "but with the Geiger Cup." He also returned with a ticket to the 2013 National Lightweight Championships at the IRA Regatta in Sacramento, California.    
    
Today's results:

EARC Sprints (Eastern Sprints) - lightweights
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Lake Quinsigamond, Worcester, Mass.

Varsity Eights - Grand Final
1. Harvard, 6:03.607
2. Yale, 6:07.967
3. Dartmouth, 6:09.798
4. COLUMBIA, 6:13.371
5. Princeton, 6:13.451
6. Cornell, 6:16.839
(2nd of 5 in heat)

Second Varsity Eights - Grand Final
1. Cornell, 6:21.529
2. Harvard, 6:22.199
3. Princeton, 6:33.885
4. Yale, 6:37.360
5. COLUMBIA, 6:40.631
6. Navy, 6:48.644
(3rd of 5 in heat)

Third Varsity Eights - Grand Final
1. Navy, 6:43.150
2. Cornell, 6:48.754
3. Harvard, 6:50.958
4. COLUMBIA, 6:52.218
5. Navy 4V, 7:00.285
6. Princeton, 7:03.385
(2nd of 5 in heat)

Today's Lightweight Boatings:

Varsity Eight
Stone Cao, cox; Anders Smedsrud, stroke; James Winford, 7; Fredrik Aasaaren, 6; Jacob Buczek, 5; Blake Pinell, 4; Roger Stone, 3; John O'Mara, 2; Griffin Whitlock, bow

Second Varsity Eight
Erica Cunningham, cox; Connor Dougherty, stroke; Travis Simon, 7; Colin Ross, 6; Ben Blair, 5; Oliver Ingram, 4; John Zucchi, 3; Matt Bellesheim, 2; Steven Boyle, bow

Third Varsity Eight
Yih-Jen Ku, cox; Lane Brokaw, stroke; Connor Murphy, 7; John Hold, 6; Curtis Kachline, 5; Andrew Batholomew, 4; Fletcher Sims, 3; Chris Hatzis, 2; Daniel Puttmann, bow