April 3, 2009

Lightweights Look to Defend Matthews Cup

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Two teams of Cornell rowers will say goodbye to the familiar Cayuga Inlet after successful outings on the lake last weekend. The women will make the short trip to Syracuse today to compete in this evening’s races, while the lightweight men head to Penn to row in the Matthew’s Cup tomorrow. In the meantime, the men of the heavyweight crews will keep an eye on the Red’s John Collyer Boat House as they stay behind to train for the George Washington Invitational in Washington, D.C., on April 10.
The women, who were originally scheduled for Saturday engagements against Syracuse and Yale, were forced to change gears last minute when the race was moved back to tonight due to weather forecasts calling for unfavorable conditions in the area this weekend.
Both the men’s and women’s crews had solid starts to their seasons last Saturday in the Ithaca College Invitational, which allowed for intra-squad rivalry between the Cornell men’s heavyweight and lightweight boats. Throughout the course of the day, the men pulled out wins in all five of its races with the heavyweight team producing first-place finishes in every category to edge out the lightweight team, who went second in each.
“Last week, the men executed on a lot of good fronts. I wasn’t jumping up and down about times, but they can use [last weekend] as a step up for league racing,” said varsity lightweight coach Chris Kerber, “As always, it was good to race the heavyweights. The lightweight guys get a lot of benefit from pacing off of the heavyweight boats. Because they are lighter men, they have to be, man for man, more efficient per stroke to gain more speed.”[img_assist|nid=36527|title=Aiming high|desc=The women’s crew has its sights set on Syracuse this weekend.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
In the Matthew’s Cup tomorrow, the lightweight men will face powerful Ivy opponents Penn and Harvard. The Red has faced the Quakers and the Crimson together every year since 1987. The Matthew-Leonard Cup is awarded to the winner of Cornell and Penn — the Red men’s varsity squad will be rowing for its 15th straight victory.
“The Ivy League in lightweight rowing is incredibly competitive. Every year is different and no match can be taken lightly. We all train intensely for six weeks and no one in the league gets a bye weekend,” said Kerber, “Every team races very hard and we see top performances, week in and week out. This is a great thing for the league.”
Harvard begins its spring season tomorrow, while Penn hit the water last weekend in the Murphy Cup Regatta. Penn’s sole win of the race came from the freshman-8 boat. While the Crimson will be the team to zero in on, this year’s Red team gives its all, no matter the circumstances.
“We never take a competition for granted,” said Kerber, “All of the men [from each team] weigh in the night before at 155 [lbs.]. Technically, they are all the same. It just comes down to who has it on race day. It is just guts…gutting it out for a win.”
Like the men’s team, the women stole the show at the Ithaca College Invitational as its second varsity-8, varsity-4, novice-8 and second novice-8 boats all brought home victories. The top varsity-8 lost in a neck-and-neck battle of the oars, coming in less than a second behind Ithaca.
“Last weekend really showcased our depth,” said senior captain Cathleen Balantic, “The first and second varsity boats raced comparable times. Both crews were hungry.”
This evening, the women will find stiff competition at the Onondaga Lake Outlet against Yale, the reigning national champions, and Syracuse, a Central New York rival. The winner of the highly anticipated varsity-8 race, to take place at 6 p.m., will be awarded the Cayuga Cup.
The Red already saw the Orange at the Princeton Chase in October and again at the Syracuse Invitational in November.
“We raced them a few times in the fall and we are definitely competitive with some of the crews they put out,” said Balantic, “Syracuse is always on our radar. I guess you could say it’s a race for local bragging rights. Traditionally we are evenly matched, so it should be a good race. They are a crew we like to gauge ourselves against. We beat them by four seconds in 2008. It will be interesting to see where we are this year. This weekend will be a good indication.”
Unfortunately, the Red can’t say the same of the other competitor in tonight’s three-way matchup.
“Yale won the NCAA Championship in 2008. They have some of the best crews in country. It will be a great opportunity to see where we stack up. Yale will be best team we see this spring, but our real focus is on Syracuse,” said Balantic, “This early in the season, it is not wise to expect miracles. We will cross that bridge when we come to it.”
In practice, the Red is constantly looking for ways to improve and gain the upper hand.
“In terms of physical power and performance, we are all on the same level. It is just a matter of trying to figure out the right combination [of rowers] to make the boats faster,” said Balantic.
The Cornell women may lack experience and size in comparison to the rowers of other programs, but they have a strong competitive spirit to make up for it.
“We are young and physically smaller than other teams, but we are also a highly .motivated group of girls,” said Balantic, “I think the CU women’s rowing program will be a dark horse this season. Our crews were really gutsy and hardworking in preseason and over the winter break.
“We could see some growing pains in the next couple of weeks, but I am optimistic that it will come together and we can use the underdog position to our advantage. It is exciting to come out of the woodwork and surprise the other crews that are underestimating you.”