Heavyweight crew narrowly falls to Brown

by Alex Kane | 4/26/15 6:01pm

As the spring thaw continued to melt the ice and snow in the hills of the Connecticut River Valley, the first through fifth varsity boats of the heavyweight crew team raced Brown University at home this past Saturday, the team’s first home race since last November.

With three weeks until the Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges Sprints — the championship race for crews on the East Coast — the Big Green narrowly fell to the Bears, who won three of the five races.

Dartmouth’s fourth and fifth varsity boats beat out Brown, while the first, second and third boats took losses with margins as narrow as two seconds. The lightweight crew team had a bye week after dropping to Yale University last weekend.

This time of year is always tumultuous on the Connecticut. Winter clings to the Upper Valley just long enough that the river stays frozen well after crews farther south have transitioned from ergometers to rowing on their home courses.

In the space of four months the Connecticut goes from a solid sheet of ice to placid, lake-like conditions — the kind of calm, glassy current coveted by the United States National Team.

This is the second year running that the ice over the Connecticut River has remained intact well into the rowing season. The heavyweight team took on Columbia University and Yale without meeting for a practice on the water, heavyweight captain Stuart Maeder ’15 said. The lightweights have raced the University of Delaware and Harvard University in the same stretch.

No access to open water is an obstacle for any crew team. The first weeks of spring are crucial for regaining technical skill and nuance made rusty or lost after months spent only on rowing machines and lifting, lightweight captain Eliot Harper ’16 said. Despite the handicap of being denied crucial practice time on the water after a long term of winter training, both crews have seen some success.

For the first time in two years, the lightweight team was not swept by Delaware in the first race of the spring season, edging out the Blue Hens in the second varsity race.

Over the same weekend, Dartmouth boats swept Columbia University in the heavyweight season opener.

“It’s typically a pretty close race,” Maeder said. “This is the first time that the varsity has beat Columbia in four years.”

The heavyweight team followed their win against Columbia with a close series of losses against Yale in all boats, save a win for the fourth varsity. A week later on the Charles River, Dartmouth was swept by Boston University, but by closer margins than last year.

The team has taken these results and the strong showing they put up against Brown as signs of encouragement, Jamie Billings ’16 said.

“We’re deeper than we’ve ever been,” Billings said. “We’re definitely fitter than we’ve ever been as a team. Winter training was extremely successful. The vast majority of our team [made personal records] in both our [2,000-meter] and our [6,000-meter races]. Beyond that, the team is just rowing a more unified stroke than they have in the past.”

What’s more, Brown is historically a strong contender in the heavyweight league. The crew took second in the country last year and third the year before at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association regatta. In that context, the race against Brown is even more significant.

“We were up on them for about a length for the first 1,500 meters,” Maeder said. “It was one of the better fights the Dartmouth crew has put to the Brown crew in quite some time. Looking forward it gave us a glimmer of the championship season. If we can hang with Brown for that middle thousand, we can hang with anyone.”

After Delaware, the lightweights have taken some tough losses, falling to both Harvard and Columbia in one weekend and to Yale the next. Their race against Yale, though another loss, showed signs of progress, Nick Pugliaresi ’16 said.

“We lost by a little over a length,” Pugliaresi said. “It was the best race we’ve had this season so far, though. We made some productive changes and were able to establish a good rhythm for most of the piece.”

Though results in dual races — the competitions pitting two or three schools against one another — are important, both teams are focused on the long term.

Serious training on the water and a competitive race at Eastern Sprints, followed by the Intercollegiate Rowing Association’s National Championship Regatta — the race that pits the best of the East Coast against West Coast crews — are more important than any win in the weeks prior, Pugliaresi said.

“The main goal is to do well at sprints and IRAs,” Billings said. “While we’d like to win our dual races in the next couple weeks, we’re going try to hit it hard the next three weeks to prepare for Sprints. We’re definitely in a better position to do well than we have been in the past.”

So now, the Big Green crews are tasked with making the most of each and every hour on the water to translate the physical gains of winter training into speed on the water.

This past Saturday alone, the heavyweight crew team’s two weeks of time on the water had to compete with Brown’s month and a half, Maeder said.

“We’ve known that we’re playing catch up,” Maeder said. “Everyone’s been showing up every day with a sense of urgency to catch up to the other crews that have had more time than us.”