WORCESTER, Mass. — Collegiate rowing races span 2000 meters, but at the 2011 Eastern (EARC) Sprints, Columbia's freshman and varsity lightweight eights saved the best for last. The freshmen earned a silver medal in their Grand Final, edging third-place Cornell by just 1.22 seconds, while the varsity edged Georgetown by an even closer margin, .116 seconds, to qualify for the National Lightweight Championship, which will be held at the IRA Regatta Saturday, June 4.
    
The freshmen were hardly a surprise to veteran EARC observers. They had compiled a 9-1 record during the spring season, their only loss to Princeton in the season's first northern race. The record, which included wins over Cornell, Dartmouth and Georgetown, earned them the second seed in the freshman lightweight eights, behind the Tigers.
    
Nor was their opening heat any kind of eye-opener. The Lions broke open a tight four-team race by moving out into a comfortable first place. Knowing they were in place to advance to the Grand Final in the afternoon, they allowed Princeton to zoom into the lead in the closing meters.
    
"We rowed a professional race," freshman coach Ed Golding observed. "We were just taking care of business."
    
Columbia had not faced Yale, the top-seeded freshman lightweight eight, during the season, the Lions-Bulldogs confrontation canceled due to high winds and rough water at Yale. But Golding got a good look at the Elis in their opening heat. He was highly impressed.
    
"Yale had the fastest boat, you could tell after watching them. There's no doubt," he said.
    
And true to form, Yale jumped out to a quick lead in the Grand Final and expanded it, soon establishing open water between it and the rest of the pack.
    
Although all five other crews were bunched together, Columbia soon emerged. The Lions moved into the lead, attempting, with little success, to reduce the distance to Yale.
    
But while Columbia couldn't catch the Bulldogs, the rest of the "pack" began to catch up to the Lions. Suddenly, Columbia's advantage was perilous.
    
"It was very tight between two and six," Golding recalled, "but we row better in a tight race." No matter how much pressure Cornell and Princeton applied, they could not overtake Columbia.
    
The Lions surged across the finish line in 6:12.242, 5.5 seconds behind Yale, which had begun to lose much of its advantage to the men from Morningside. Cornell and Princeton were close behind, just 1.22 and 2.152 seconds away.
    
 As the Lions received their medals at the awards dock, Golding "analyzed" his team's showing.
    
It was simple, he said. "Like I said about this morning, we took care of business in the first 1000 meters [to establish our lead]. In the second 1000, we had fun.
    
"We had a lot of fun."
    
The varsity eight didn't have much fun in its opening heat, when it finished fourth of five. They saved it all for the Petite Final.
    
This was not an ordinary Petite Final. Only seven lightweight varsity eights advance from the EARC Sprints to the National Lightweight Championship June 4: the six teams in the Grand Final, AND the champion of the Petite Final. Columbia set its sights on being the Petite Final champion, as did three other schools — Penn, MIT and Georgetown.
    
For much of the race, it appeared that Penn would be the first place finisher. But Georgetown caught up to the Quakers, and Columbia joined the fray. So close was the finish that no one on shore dared hazard a guess on the winner.
    
But after an interminable wait for the officials to study the finish line photos, the announcement came. "In third place, Penn, 5:57.807; in second place, Georgetown, 5:51.540; and in first place, Columbia, 5:51.425".
    
By margins of .116 seconds (Columbia over Georgetown) and 6.4 seconds (Columbia over Penn), the Lions were going to the national championship!
    
Head coach Scott Alwin was exultant, but not just because of his crew's showing.
    
"They did a very good job," he said, "a great job, of handling the demands of getting ready for both the Sprints and final exams. I am very impressed."
    
The Sprints was a high-water mark for Alwin's squads. "Today," he said, "for the first time, every crew did exactly what they were capable of. There were no letdown rows."
    
The second varsity and freshman eights saw their season come to a close at the Sprints. The varsity eight gets another three weeks to train for the national championship in June.
    
"They're excited to be together and keep practicing for three more weeks," Alwin noted.
    
The results:

Eastern Sprints (EARC) - lightweights
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Lake Quinsigamond, Worcester, Mass.

Varsity Eights - Petite Final

1. COLUMBIA, 5:51.425
2. Georgetown, 5:51.540
3. Penn, 5:57.807
4. MIT, 6:06.445
(4th of 5 in Heat)

Second Varsity Eights - Petite Final
1. Penn, 6:22.838
2. COLUMBIA, 6:30.001
3. Georgetown, 6:33.485
(5th of 5 in Heat)

Freshman Eights - Grand Final

1. Yale, 6:06.852
2. COLUMBIA, 6:12.642
3. Cornell, 6:13.864
4. Princeton, 6:14.394
5. Penn, 6:20.537
6. Dartmouth, 6:23.400

(Opening Heat Two)
1. Princeton, 6:16.213
2. COLUMBIA, 6:17.654
3. Penn, 6:20.025
4. Navy, 6:22.757
5. MIT, 6:33.805

Today's Boatings at the EARC Sprints:

Varsity Eight
Jesse Qualliotine, cox; Daniel Kirrane, stroke; Bruno Salemme, 7; John O'Mara, 6; James Kahmann, 5; Blake Pinell, 4; Matt Hayto, 3; Brian Nickel, 2; Graham Pupo, bow

Second Varsity Eight
Stone Cao, cox; James Brown, stroke; John Zucchi, 7; Tucker Haunt, 6; Alexander Ciucci, 5; Noah Buckley, 4; Carlos Rodriguez Castillo, 3; Tim Reichmann, 2; Elliott Velson, bow

Freshman Eight
Amelia Kudenholdt, cox; Anders Smedsrud, stroke; Curtis Kachline, 7; Connor Dougherty, 6; Chris Hatzis, 5; John Hold, 4; Steven Boyle, 3; Roger Stone, 2; James Winford, bow