Mission accomplished for the Princeton heavyweights during the first day of the 2012 IRA National Championships at Cooper River in Cherry Hill, N.J. All three of Princeton's boats reached Friday's semifinals to highlight the first day of competition.
Both the varsity eight and the second varsity eight qualified directly from the morning heats, while the freshman eight needed a victory in its afternoon repechage to keep its season going. There will be no second chances on Friday, though; only the top three from each semifinal will compete Saturday morning for a national championship.
The varsity eight found itself in a morning heat with reigning champion and 2012 favorite Washington, but the Tigers knew only a top-two finish was necessary for advancement. That meant a showdown with both Cornell and Northeastern to avoid an afternoon repechage, and no team wants to race four times in a three-day event.
While the Huskies won the heat in 5:45.849, the next three teams found themselves in a good battle for the second spot. Cornell, which defeated Princeton at home during the regular season, held a lead over the Tigers early, but Princeton fought back to qualify in 5:47.399. That topped Cornell by more than one second and Northeastern by more than two.
"They raced a sound piece today for the length of the course," heavyweight coach Greg Hughes said. "We needed to prove we could do that. It's important to have our best races of the season tomorrow. Semifinal day at the IRAs is one of the most exciting days of the whole season."
While this is the national championship weekend, Princeton's 12:30 semifinal heat will have a distinctly Ivy feel. While Syracuse will race from lane 1, the next five lanes (in order) will include Princeton, Brown, Harvard, Cornell and Penn.
Brown won the Eastern Sprints title three weeks ago, while Harvard was the only unbeaten varsity eight during the regular season. Princeton topped both Penn and Syracuse during the regular season.
Of course, none of that will mean much tomorrow.
"After three weeks off after Sprints, everybody makes changes," Hughes said. "It's like we'll be seeing crews for the first time again."
The top three will race in Saturday's grand final (11:45 am), while the next three will race in the petite final.
The second varsity eight also made its 11:45 am Friday semifinal by placing second in its morning heat. Wisconsin, which won the 2V championship at Eastern Sprints, won the heat in 5:53.802, but once again it was Princeton and Cornell locked in a duel for the second spot. The two boats traded leads, but the Tigers grabbed both the final one and the semifinal berth in 5:55.429, more than one second ahead of the Big Red.
"They had a great race down the course this morning," Hughes said. "It was a good way to start off their weekend."
The 2V will compete against Syracuse, Washington, Harvard, Navy and Stanford Friday for the three berths in Saturday's finals.
The freshman eight took the longest route to the semifinals, but it will be in the mix again. The novice boat was locked in a tight showdown with Brown for about half of its morning heat, but the Bears pulled away to top Princeton by more than three seconds. The Tigers bounced back in style, though, winning their afternoon repechage in 5:46.088 to qualify for the 11:30 am semifinal against Yale, Brown, California, Cornell and Dartmouth.
"They had an OK race in the heat," Hughes said. "They learned something there and came back strong in the afternoon."Varsity Eight • Heat #2
1 Washington 5:45.849
2 Princeton 5:47.399
3 Cornell 5:48.760
4 Northeastern 5:49.763
5 Navy 6:01.015
6 Drexel 6:25.182
Second Varsity Eight • Heat #2
1 Wisconsin 5:53.802
2 Princeton 5:55.429
3 Cornell 5:56.669
4 Pennsylvania 6:19.129
5 Dartmouth 6:34.665
Freshman Eight • Heat #2
1 Washington 5:54.511
2 Brown 5:59.352
3 Princeton 6:02.590
4 Yale 6:02.885
5 Syracuse 6:10.453
6 Geo Washington 6:34.565
Freshman Eight • Repechage #1
1 Princeton 5:46.088
2 Navy 5:46.206
3 Wisconsin 5:52.078
4 Syracuse 5:56.247
5 Gonzaga 6:02.918
6 Drexel 6:03.281