The EARC Championships is a day revered by Princeton heavyweight head coach Greg Hughes, who has experienced both the highs and lows of that championship Sunday. He'd love nothing more than to pick up maybe his biggest high this weekend, when Princeton goes for its sixth championship in program history.
Princeton enters Sunday's championship regatta, held on Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester, Mass., as the third seed in the field, though it's a field whose top five is as tightly packed as possible.
Harvard is the deserving top seed after both winning the 2010 title and going undefeated through the 2011 regular season, though it beat Princeton by 1.2 seconds and fifth-seeded Brown by 2.6 seconds. Princeton also defeated Brown by 2.6 seconds, and neither second-seeded Wisconsin nor fourth-seeded Boston University has raced either Harvard or Princeton this season.
In other words, expect the unexpected. Of course, that might as well be the motto at the EARC Championships, which is what makes the day so exciting for both Hughes and the rowing community.
Princeton comes into the regatta off its best regular season since 2006, which also happens to be the last time Princeton won the Worcester Bowl as the EARC varsity eight champion. The Tigers, ranked fourth nationally in the latest USRowing Collegiate Poll, went 7-1 on the season and 5-1 against the Ivy League.
Their lone loss, though, may have served as the biggest motivating force for this team. In their Content Cup regatta against Harvard, the Princeton V8 went out early against the Crimson for a lead, then fought off one Crimson press to take another lead around the midway point.
With about 500 meters to go, the Crimson had nearly drawn even, and they took control over the final 300 to take the win. Still, that victory by 1.2 seconds was its closest margin of victory all season.
"Going into that race, we didn't really know what to expect because there was a lot of hype surrounding Harvard," said Princeton senior Blake Parsons during this week's edition of TigerCast, which you can listen to online by clicking under the "Podcasts" tab on the top right corner of the page. "It would have been great to reverse that 1.2-second margin, but that's something we have worked on the rest of the season. If nothing else, we feel we'll have a really good race with Harvard and some of the strong knowns and unknowns, like Wisconsin and B.U., this Sunday."
Princeton will begin its varsity eight competition at 11:36 Sunday morning with a semifinal heat against fourth-seeded Boston University, ninth-seeded Yale, 10th-seeded Dartmouth, 15th-seeded Holy Cross and 16th-seeded George Washington. Those boats will be in lanes 1-6 corresponding to their respective seeds, with Princeton in lane 1 and George Washington in lane 6. The top two boats will compete for the Worcester Bowl at 5:01 p.m., with the top two finishers in the other pair of semifinal heats. Of the five semifinal opponents, Princeton only saw Yale and defeated the Bulldogs by 10.9 seconds.
While the varsity eight competition will determine the Eastern and Ivy League champion, it is far from the only heavyweight competition in the regatta. The Princeton 2V, which also went 7-1 on the season, is seeded third behind Harvard and Wisconsin and will open its day at 11 a.m., with its semifinal heat. A top-two finish would land Princeton in the 4:19 grand final.
The novice eight went 8-1 on the season and is the second seed behind Harvard. Princeton won each of its other eight races by at least four seconds apiece, although it will see four new semifinal opponents Sunday, including fifth-seeded Navy and eighth-seeded Wisconsin. The freshman eight will be aiming for the 3:07 championship final.
The only Princeton boat seeded outside of the top three is the third varsity, which comes in as the seventh seed and will need at least one semifinal upset to reach the 1:55 grand final.