Varsity Lightweights Ride Powerful Wave to Grand Final of National Championship

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Four of the rowers who led Columbia to the Grand Final included (l-r) Daniel Kirrane, Bruno Salemme, John O'Mara and James Kahmann.
Courtesy: Columbia University Athletics/Gene Boyars
CAMDEN COUNTY, N.J. — Waves are for surfers, not college rowers. But the Columbia varsity lightweights generated a wave way back in early May, and rode it straight to the Grand Final of the 2011 National Lightweight Championship at the IRA Regatta.
   
Coach Scott Alwin's varsity lights got that wave going during the three weeks from the end of their regular season to the Eastern Sprints May 15. That's where the Lions proved their mettle by edging Georgetown in an incredible finish for first place in the Petite Final and the last qualifying spot in the National Championship.
   
"We had a three-week run up to the Sprints," Alwin said, "and three weeks together in Vermont practicing for today. We gained momentum and speed, and kept our season going."
   
To keep it going all the way to the Grand Final, Columbia had to finish no worse than third in its opening heat. It faced a formidable field, though, in Yale, Dartmouth and Navy.
   
"We had a good race," the coach noted. "We were totally prepared."
   
Yale won the heat, and Dartmouth stayed on the Bulldogs' heels, just one second behind. Navy figured to finish third, but Columbia would have none of that. The Lions went ahead of the Midshipmen early in the race and held on, actually increasing their margin.
   
Columbia finished third in 5:56.036, five seconds better than Navy. "That was," Alwin said, "the first time we've beaten Navy in years."
   
For the second time, Columbia had shown it had the speed to row with the big dogs. For that's what the post-season is, speed.
   
"We've have been waiting, all the last three weeks in practice," Alwin explained, "to show they have the speed to belong here."
   
Though quite evident in the opening heat that the Lions had that speed, it was lost somewhat in the blistering pace set by the other boats in the Grand Final. With the top three finishers separated by fewer than two seconds — Yale edged Harvard for first by 22/100 of a second! — Columbia fell behind early. The Lions finished sixth of six in 5:53.338.
   
Despite the sixth place, "We had a pretty good row, not bad by any means," the coach noted. "There was a lot of speed in that race."
   
That late-season wave buoyed Alwin's spirits considerably.
   
"This crew," he said, "did the best job of living up to their potential as any that I have seen in a while. With only two graduating from this year, and a good freshman eight, this is a good way to get ready for next year."
   
The results:

National Men's Lightweight Championship at IRA Regatta
Saturday, June 4, 2011
Cooper River, Camden County, N.J.

Varsity Lightweights Eights, Grand Final

1. Yale, 5:39.904
2. Harvard, 5:39.926
3. Dartmouth, 5:41.860
4. Cornell, 5:46.308
5. Princeton, 5:49.427
6. COLUMBIA, 5:53.338

Varsity Lightweight Eights, Heat Two
1. Yale, 5:52.049
2. Dartmouth, 5:53.044
3. COLUMBIA, 5:56.036
4. Navy, 6:01.103

Today's Boating at the National Lightweight Championship

Varsity Eight
Stephanie Ngai, 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
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