You can’t do Semifinal Saturday at the NCAA Rowing Championships any better than Princeton did, and it has now established itself a true contender for the 2012 NCAA title. The sixth-ranked Tigers were one of only three programs to place all three boats in Sunday’s grand finals, and all three boats took different paths to get there.
Regardless of how each boat qualified in its 2,000-meter journey, this much is true: Princeton already has a minimum of 66 team points in this championship regatta, third-most in program history, and it can only go up from there.
How far up will be decided Sunday morning at Mercer Lake, when the final session of the NCAA Championships are held. The Princeton varsity four will race in the 10:25 grand final, while the second varsity eight will row at 11:15. The varsity eight will try to defend its 2011 NCAA title when it competes in the final race of the year at 12:05 pm.
If you can’t get to Mercer Lake, you can follow the championships through live video or live stats by clicking on the links above. Princeton’s official Twitter feed (@PUTigers) will also provide live updates.
“I have to congratulate the whole team on today’s performance,” said head coach Lori Dauphiny, who has led Princeton to nine Top-5 finishes at the NCAA Championships. “They said that their goal was to place all three boats in the finals, and they went out and did it.”
Both the Michigan and Princeton varsity eights made a huge move through the first 500 meters to lead the field by one length in the second semifinal. While the rest of the boats made moves on each other for third place, none were able to threaten either Michigan or Princeton throughout the second half of the race.
The Wolverines, who topped Princeton in the 2012 season opener, ended up taking the win in 6:15.2, but Princeton kept its lead over Washington throughout the final 1000 and qualified for the grand final with a time of 6:17.4. Washington withstood moves by UCLA and Ohio State to finish third and qualify for the final.
“The strategy for them was to go out and have a good start,” Dauphiny said, “and then to row within themselves. It took toughness and guts to do this. To come from a tough Ivy Sprints and turn it around is huge. It’s impressive and inspiring.”
The second varsity took about the exact opposite journey to Sunday’s final, but it got there all the same. The 2V race saw both California and Virginia get off to quick starts, while Brown made a huge move between the 750- and 1000-meter mark to threaten for one of the top two spots.
Meanwhile, Princeton, the 2012 Ivy League champion, didn’t have the best start and needed to at least keep in position for its final push. With 500 meters remaining, the Tigers were in a battle for fourth and trailed third-place Brown by four seats, and they knew the time was now to make that last push.
With the race announcer calling it a “desperate sprinting push,” Princeton cut the deficit seat by seat, and appeared to only get stronger with every stroke. The Tigers moved past Brown and, for good measure, caught Virginia for .7 of a second to end up placing second in a time of 6:32.8. California won the semifinal n 6:30.5, while Virginia held off Brown by less than one second to also qualify for the final.
“They really kept their wits in that race,” Dauphiny said. “Brown was rowing high and making moves in the middle of the race, but we were able to make the late push. I asked them how they did it afterwards, and they didn’t have an answer. It’s just what they do.”
The varsity four didn’t have a breathtaking start or finish, but it used a methodical, tactical effort to complete the Tiger trifecta. Ohio State took control early and led by about a length over Virginia, who in turn led Princeton by a length around the middle of the race.
That left the Tigers in that all-important third position. UCLA and Wisconsin battled each other first, and once UCLA established itself as the final challenger, it made a final move on Princeton in the final 500. The Bruins did cut into their deficit, but Princeton had one final push and ultimately knocked off UCLA by two seconds.
Ohio State won handily in 7:05.52, while Virginia placed second in 7:10.70. Princeton finished third in 7:12.43 and joined both California and Virginia as the only programs with all three boats in the grand finals.
“The four was really gunning to qualify for Sunday,” Dauphiny said. “Its heat yesterday was solid, but there were a couple rocky patches. We wanted to have a good final 500, and we did it to qualify for the final.”
Having all three in the final is crucial because of the way points are distributed; the last-place boat in the grand final is worth more than the winner of the petite final.
Unlike the Ivy League Championships, or the IRA national championships for the other rowing leagues, the NCAA Championships is not awarded based solely on the winner of the varsity eight competition. Instead, a combined point total from each program's top three boats (varsity eight, second varsity eight, varsity four) will be used to determine the national champion.
The varsity eight competition is worth the most points, followed by the second varsity eight and the varsity four. Points are awarded for each team's final finish in Sunday's finals. The varsity eight winner earns 48 team points; every other team earns a multiple of three points based on its overall finish. Thus, the second-place team earns 45, the third-place team earns 42, etc. The second-varsity eight uses the same system, only with a multiple of two points, so the winner earns 32, the second-place team earns 30, etc. The varsity four earns one point per spot, with the winning team earning 16 points.
Hence, a program that swept all three titles would score 96 points and would cruise home with NCAA gold. Over the last decade, the two highest team scores have been 88 (Stanford, 2009) and 87 (Virginia, 87).
Varsity Eight • Semifinal #2
1) Michigan 6:15.2
2) Princeton 6:17.4
3) Washington 6:18.3
4) UCLA 6:20.8
5) Ohio State 6:22.3
6) Yale 6:26.8
Advancing from semifinal #1: Virginia, USC, California
Second Varsity Eight • Semifinal #1
1) California 6:30.5
2) Princeton 6:32.8
3) Virginia 6:33.5
4) Brown 6:34.4
5) Wisconsin 6:42.3
6) USC 6:44.2
Advancing from semifinal #2: Michigan, Ohio State, UCLA
Varsity Four • Semifinal #2
1) Ohio State 7:05.52
2) Virginia 7:10.70
3) Princeton 7:12.43
4) UCLA 7:14.45
5) Wisconsin 7:17.43
6) Cornell 7:25.09
Advancing from semifinal #1: California, Yale, Washington