Although the summer vacation is at the halfway point for most Cornell students, the men’s lightweight crew didn’t conclude its season until July 2, when the Red took second place in the the Temple Challenge Cup at the 2006 Henley Royal Regatta, finishing just 1/3 of a length behind Oxford-Brookes University (6:27). Cornell fell to the same Oxford-Brookes University squad in the quarterfinals of last year’s race.
The postseason for the lightweights culminated in the program’s second national title after beating second-place Harvard by .08 of a second at the 2006 IRA Regatta on the Cooper River in Cherry Hill, N.J., on June 3. The Red won its first national crown under head coach Todd Kennett ’91, and the first for Cornell since 1992.
In the first day of action at the IRA Regatta, the varsity eight boat stroked its way to first in its heat with a time of 5:53.53, two seconds ahead of Columbia. The mark was the third-fastest time of the day behind only Navy (5:53.25) and Princeton (5:53.25) as the two boats raced to a photo-finish in the second heat.
Cornell came out on top in the second photo-finish of the weekend, holding off a late charge by the Crimson to finish in 5:42.71, less than a stroke ahead of runner-up Princeton (5:45.07). The Red led from start to finish over the 2,000-meter course. Columbia (5:45.66), Yale (5:46.29) and Navy (5:47.18) rounded out the rest of the Grand Final field.
“It was pretty exciting,” Kennet said. “We started out thinking it was an extreme rebuilding year and they kept reaching the goals that we put in front of them. It kept snowballing and it ended up showing at the end of the year.”
The victory capped a storybook postseason for the lightweights, which began when the Red won three gold medals at the Eastern Sprints in Worcester, Mass. On May 21, the Red claimed first place in the varsity eight race, the second varsity eight race, and the freshman varsity eight.
Cornell took the field by surprise, as the team entered the weekend seeded eighth before racing to its first Eastern Sprints title since the undefeated 1992 crew finished in similar fashion. It was the eighth title in program history and gave the 2005-06 squad its ninth Ivy League win of the season, setting a new record for single-season victories for Cornell. The varsity eight cruised to the finish in a time of 5:53.2, three seconds ahead of second-place Navy and more than four seconds ahead of Yale, the next Ivy boat.
The men’s heavyweight crew could not live up to the success of its lighter counterparts, although it did find moments of glory in the postseason. The varsity eight finished second in the Eastern Sprints Petite Final for an eighth-place showing overall, an improvement over the squad’s ninth-place finish in 2005. In Petite Final, the Red finished only a few seconds behind Syracuse.
“I thought it was an encouraging race. It showed that we had improved and that we had picked up speed,” said men’s heavyweight head coach Dan Roock.
The second varsity boat and freshman eight squad each notched a second-place finish in their respective finals as well.
The heavyweights continued to perform at the IRA Regatta, as the varsity eight boat finished 10th overall, placing fourth in the Petite Final with a time of 5:48.91. California claimed the overall title with a time of 5:37.71 to take first in the Grand Final.
“It was another step forward from the Eastern Sprints because we were racing crews from all over the country. Coming in top 10 in the country was a pretty solid effort,” Roock said.
The varsity pair advanced to the Grand Final, taking third with a time of 7:03.2 behind first-place Stanford (6:53.7) and runner-up Wisconsin (6:56.7). In the second varsity eight competition, the Red took top honors in the Petite Final with a time of 5:57.37, while Harvard (5:44.11) claimed the national title in the Grand Final.
“I was really excited for the junior varsity,” Roock said. “They ended up coming in seventh and that really was nice to see, but not completely expected and in that race. Given the low expectations and simply because we lost so many seniors from the year before, there was an opportunity for rowers to fill in for leadership roles. The year as a whole was quite gratifying because we came as far as any crew I have coached, from how good we were at the start of the year to how good we were at the end.”
The women’s crew’s postseason foreshadowed a strong future for the Red, as the novice boats advanced to their respective Grand Finals in the Eastern Sprints on the Cooper River on May 15. The varsity eight failed to advance to its Grand Final heat, taking fourth in the Petite Final for 10th place overall with a time of 7:23.50. The novice boat had the seventh-best time in the preliminary heats, then took clocked in at 7:38.13 in the finals to take sixth in the Grand Final. The second novice boat came on strong in the finals, finishing fifth.
The women also brought home postseason honors for Cornell, as the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association awarded junior Diana Athonvarangkul and sophomore Sarah-Jean Griffin academic honors as National Scholar Athletes, while sophomore Kimberly Kraemer and senior Alexa Olson were named to the first and second-team Mid-Atlantic All-Region teams, respectively. Kraemer and Olson were also invited to the selection camp for the United Stated U-23 team, which starts rowing June 6 at California-Berkeley.