Every team at the NCAA Championships knows that the best path to the team title is getting all three boats into Sunday's grand finals. Step one in that process is qualifying for the semifinals, and Princeton took care of business Friday during Day 1 at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis, Ind.
The varsity eight, which went 9-1 during the regular season and defeated six NCAA qualifiers before winning its 13th Ivy League championship, looked strong in its opening heat. Racing from Lane 3 in the opening heat, Princeton jumped out early and led UCLA by nearly two seconds after 500 meters.
That lead grew to four seconds at the midway point of the race, and Princeton ended up winning the heat in 6:56.995, which was more than five seconds faster than UCLA and 11 seconds faster than third-place Brown, which needed to go back through the reps."We came out of the opening heat feeling confident, but we know that we are going to need to find even more speed to advance through the semifinals and on to finals tomorrow," said junior Kathryn Irwin, racing from the 3-seat for the Princeton varsity eight. "It was fun to race today after taking last weekend off, and I'm excited to see what we can do in the semifinals with one race under our belt."
Princeton will look for a berth in the NCAA grand final when it competes in the 7:50 am Saturday semifinal. The Tigers will be in Lane 3, and they will be surrounded by several familiar opponents, including Ivy rivals Yale (Lane 1) and Harvard (Lane 2). Yale finished second to Princeton in the Ivy final, while Harvard is the only boat with a victory over the Tigers this season."We experienced very strong winds during our first few practice rows and heavy downpours during our opening heat today," Irwin said. "Luckily, we dealt with some similarly rough conditions during our last week of practice on Lake Carnegie, so we feel prepared for whatever weather Mother Nature throws our way."
Ohio State (Lane 4), Washington (5) and Michigan (6) will also join the semifinal, which will send three boats to the grand final. Princeton defeated Ohio State in the season opener, though the Buckeyes are ranked first in the latest national poll. The Tigers also defeated Michigan on Lake Carnegie in the season finale.
The second varsity also performed well, finishing second in its morning heat to qualify for the semifinals. USC took the race in 6:56.304, but Princeton’s time of 6:58.556 was more than 16 seconds faster than the three remaining boats in the field. The Tigers led Notre Dame by more than 10 seconds midway through the race, and they never let anybody get close to taking their ticket to Saturday’s semifinal.
The 2V will race in Lane 5 Saturday at 8:10 am, with three boats advancing to Sunday’s national championship. Princeton will face UCLA (1), Virginia (2), Brown (3), California (4) and Notre Dame (6) in the semifinal. The Tigers only faced Brown this season, and they split in two races. Princeton won in the season opener, while Brown took the Ivy 2V title on May 19.
"We were definitely excited to get back on to the water, get back to work, and prepare for nationals after Ivies," senior Sara Kushma said. "With Nationals, the goal of each boat in the first two days is to get into the grand final. We were able to complete step one of that process today and we are looking forward to the competitive semi tomorrow.
"With respect to being a senior," Kushma added, "I try not to think that this is my last year, and my last two races, as a part of this amazing team."
The varsity four had to do some extra work Friday, as it finished fourth in a loaded morning heat. USC took the win in 7:52.323, while Ohio State grabbed the second spot in 7:55.263. Stanford and Princeton were the next two boats to finish, and both began preparations for the afternoon repechage.
Princeton didn’t waste any time grabbing an advantage in the second repechage, when there were only two spots remaining in the main semifinals. The Tigers got out to a quick lead and let second-place Brown worry more about the boats behind it. The Bears tried to make one push towards Princeton, but the Tigers held them off and comfortably finished first in the rep in 7:59.415.
Princeton will need to come from Lane 1 in the 8:30 semifinal, where it will face Notre Dame (2), Virginia (3), USC (4), Washington State (5) and Michigan (6). Princeton’s only 2013 opponent in that mix is Michigan, which the Tigers topped by five seconds in the season finale.