April 5, 2010

Men’s Rowing Hosts Harvard For First Meeting in 49 Years

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The bad blood between Harvard and Cornell has always made for some memorable encounters. Whether best embodied by projectile fish directed at Crimson players, or the rousing welcome Newman Nation gave to Jeremy Lin and Co. last January, this rivalry has historically produced obvious tensions on both sides.

On Saturday afternoon, the Red hosted the Crimson on the Cayuga Lake Inlet for their first head-to-head meeting in 49 years. And while the home team may not have had the same success against Harvard as its hockey and basketball counterparts did this winter, the race was certainly not without a bit of drama.

“Our motto ‘BMA’ [Best Man Afloat] comes from a Harvard-Cornell race, so it’s sort of odd that it wasn’t happening. I don’t know if people were just afraid of Harvard or not. … We added them to our race schedule this year because we wanted to see someone who’s really good right away at the beginning of the season,” said head coach Todd Kennett ’91. “Harvard’s notoriously one of the best [teams] in the country –– it was just a great way to get an indicator on how we did. … If we beat Harvard, we know we’re really fast, and if we don’t beat Harvard, we know what we have to work on.”

“This [was] a chance for us to get out on the water and race a really elite crew and to test our speed earlier in the season,” added sophomore heavyweight Gardner Yost.

Indeed, the Crimson lived up to its billing –– sweeping all five races on the day. Harvard’s first Varsity boat finished with a time of 5:36.9 to Cornell’s 5:41.3, which sophomore heavyweight Jim Voter acknowledged was “a pretty quick time this early in the season.”

As cliché as it sounds, Saturday really was a perfect day for racing –– clear skies and temperatures in the 80s. Besides the favorable weather conditions, Voter mentioned that the inlet’s slight current and tailwind also contributed to faster times.

In the second Varsity matchup, the Crimson again came out on top with a time of 5:41.3, ahead of the Red’s 5:44.9. Both freshmen boats also crossed the finish line short of a win by about four seconds.

When asked what makes Harvard’s crew so good, Kennett pointed to the school’s ability to recruit skilled and experienced rowers not just from the U.S., but across the world.

“They have a very large foreign base. They had a number of guys from England, a couple from New Zealand, an Australian, so on and so forth,” he said –– adding that having such strong recruiting classes “then creates a culture within the Harvard boathouse where the coaches do a great job of making it super competitive [among the rowers] to actually get in a boat. So they have to work really hard to get in a boat, let alone be able to race in that boat and do well.”

There was one Cornell boat that did manage to beat Harvard –– though the win proved short-lived. In the Varsity 3B race, the Red bested the Crimson with a 5:46.4 –– compared to the visitors’ 5:48.4. However, Cornell was disqualified due to a lane infringement violation.

As Kennett later explained, his team got off to a great start –– so great, in fact, that the Red pulled far enough ahead that the boat’s coxswain, junior Natalie Little, happened to drift over a bit into the opposing team’s lane. Under normal circumstances, this would not have proved much of an issue, as the referee simply indicated for her to move over. However, due to the abundance of ambient noise, “[Natalie] couldn’t hear the referee, and he had indicated three or four times for her to move over, and by the time she heard it, it was long enough that Harvard was able to protest the race … and I believe it’s true that they had every right, that it interfered with their race. And therefore we were disqualified,” Kennett said.

Despite ending the day winless, the team was able to put the experience in perspective.

“Harvard’s just a better crew. They’re fast guys right now in the season. They had a lot more experience in their boat,” Voter said. “As the year moves on we’re going to become a faster crew; we have a lot more speed to gain.” “I hate losing, I hate saying that it was a great performance, because it wasn’t an incredible performance. But I think we did a solid job,” Kennett added. “Harvard was good … I hope they felt pushed. I didn’t think they got anything for free. But we have some adjustments to make.”

Yost echoed this sentiment: “What that was was a goal-setter for us. A reason to be motivated every day and to practice harder.”

Original Author: Alex Kuczynski-Brown