LEONIA, N.J. -- When two varsity first boat rowers were unable to qualify at the lightweight rowers' weigh-in Friday afternoon, head coach Nich Lee Parker and his staff had fewer than 24 hours to totally reconstruct not just the first varsity lineup, but those of Columbia's second, third and fourth varsity eights as well, leading into Saturday's all-important meet with Princeton and Delaware.
    
Still wondering if they had made the correct changes, Columbia's coaches and staff watched their rowers take an early lead and hold off Princeton to defeat the Tiger first varsity eight for the second time this spring, in a superb effort by the Lions.
    
Parker first became aware of the problem at the team's weigh-in at 3 p.m. Friday, when it became apparent that junior Matt Bellesheim and sophomore Jacub Buczek were too ill to take part in the weigh-in, let alone in Saturday's race.
    
Parker and his staff, including assistant coach Jesse Foglia, immediately began to formulate a lineup to replace them. Parker also addressed his varsity eight.
    
"I told them that they had made progress all year, but this time they would have to rise to the occasion," Parker recalled. "I told them they would have to reach their peak potential. I said they would have to have the best race they ever had."
    
To replace Bellesheim and Buczek, Parker turned to a senior and a first-year.
    
Petros Krommidas, a first-year from Long Island's Chaminade High, long a supplier of superb Columbia rowers, moved from the third seat in the second varsity to the varsity fifth seat, where Buczek had been. Connor Dougherty, a senior from Connecticut, moved up from the sixth seat in the 2V to the 1V fourth seat, in place of Bellesheim. Both Dougherty and Krommidas had previously occupied first varsity slots.
    
With nearly perfect weather gracing Overpeck Lake, Columbia, Princeton and Delaware all got off to good starts.
    
Following its race plan, Columbia pulled into the lead after the first 250 meters, and held it for most of the next 500 meters on the 2000-meter course.
    
Although the Lions and Tigers swapped leads for the next 200 meters or so, Columbia went out front for good with a little less than 1000 meters.
    
"Princeton kept trying to open up a lead," Parker said, "but Erica Cunningham, our senior coxswain, called an excellent race. When Princeton would push up, she knew when to call on us to push back into the lead. She got all eight of our rowers to execute her calls."
    
Predictably, the final half of the race was a "game" of give-and-take, but once Columbia was able to "settle into a rhythm," as Parker said, the Lions stayed in front.
    
Buoyed by loud, enthusiastic cheers from the fans in the viewing platform, Columbia flashed across the line first, in 5:53.2. Princeton was second, in 5:55.4, followed by Delaware, 5:56.2. The 2.2 second margin between the Lions and Tigers was considerably improved from Columbia's 0.1-second margin victory in  their first meeting April 6.
    
Jesse Foglia, Columbia's assistant lightweight coach, was spurred into a flurry of activity with the loss of two 2V rowers to the varsity. He moved sophomore Colin Ross from the second varsity eight's fourth seat to Dougherty's sixth seat, replacing him and Krommidas with bow oarsman Max Fenner, going to No. 3, and Oliver Grüeterich, No. 2 to No. 4. Conor Murphy and Noah Rivkin moved up from the 3V to the 2V, precipitating even more moves in the 3V and 4V lineups.
    
Princeton was acknowledged to be the top second varsity in the nation, but that hardly fazed the Lions.
    
"I think we put together our best race of the year," Foglia said. "[Princeton] had never had an opponent overlap them this season."
    
Not only did the Lions overlap the Tiger JV's, they actually led them in the early part of the race. Unfortunately, Foglia said, "We were a little short of horsepower down the course." Princeton overtook Columbia to win by 1.8 seconds.
    
Similar to much of the varsity race, the lead seesawed from Columbia to Princeton in the third varsity eights. The Tigers went out ahead in the second 1000, only to see Columbia's rally fall two or three seats short.
    
The fourth varsity eights was Princeton's only easy win. "The 4V represented the first race of the season for several of our rowers," Foglia explained.
    
The regatta wound up Columbia's regular season. The Lions will compete in the Eastern (EARC) Sprints Sunday, May 18 on Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester, Mass.

The results:

Columbia, Princeton, Delaware
Saturday, May 3, 2014
Overpeck Lake, Leonia, N.J.

Varsity Eights
1. COLUMBIA, 5:53.2
2. Princeton, 5:55.4
3. Delaware, 5:56.2

Second Varsity Eights
1. Princeton, 5:59.4
2. COLUMBIA, 6:01.2
3. Delaware, 6:18.7

Third Varsity Eights
1. Princeton, 6:09.6
2. COLUMBIA, 6:12.5
3. Delaware, 6:35.7

Fourth Varsity Eights
1. Princeton, 6:15.1
2. COLUMBIA, 6:34.3

Today's Columbia Boatings

Varsity Eight
Erica Cunningham, cox; Griffin Whitlock, stroke; James Winford, 7; Fredrik Aasaaren, 6; Petros Krommidas, 5; Connor Dougherty, 4; David Mottola, 3; Oliver Ingram, 2; Steven Boyle, bow

Second Varsity Eight
Yih-Jen Ku, cox; Anders Smedsrud, stroke; Ben Blair, 7; Colin Ross, 6; Lane Brokaw, 5; Oliver Grüterich, 4; Max Fenner, 3; Noah Rivkin, 2; Conor Murphy, bow
 
Third Varsity Eight
Julia Gron, cox; A. Bartholomew, stroke; Bryan Ptucha, 7; Warner Brown, 6; Chris Hatzis, 5; Daniel Puttman, 4; John Hold, 3; Max Segall, 2; Darius Grayer, bow

Fourth Varsity Eight
Jessica David Jocsen, cox; Ryan Madani, stroke; Travis Simon, 7; Brian McGrattan, 6; Thabet Mahayni, 5; Jason Swann, 4; Ben Deal, 3; Colm Smith, 2; Darius Grayer, bow