The Yale crew teams began their fall campaign with a promising display in which each team finished at the top of its respective division.
Rowing for the first time on their home course in nearby Derby, at the Head of the Housatonic Regatta on Saturday morning, the Bulldogs quickly hit their strokes. In the Women’s Collegiate Eights, the Elis finished in both first and second places and placed all four boats in the top 14. In the Men’s Collegiate Eights, the first Yale heavyweight boat recorded an emphatic first-place finish in the Men’s Collegiate and the second edged out Brown for third place. As the Head of the Housatonic does not separate its men’s races by weight class, Yale’s lightweight team rowed alongside the heavyweights and finished sixth and ninth, earning the top two finishes by any lightweight team.
“We do so much assessment on a daily basis, just by observing the rowing, by looking at ergometer scores, by monitoring body weight,” lightweight head coach Andy Card said. “We have all these metrics that we look at during the week, but there’s no substitute, no matter how intense the competition during the week, for real competition against your peers that have crimson and white on their blades, or brown and white or Columbia blue and white.”
Spring is crew’s official season, during which teams participate in side-by-side 2000-meter races. In the unofficial fall season, the Elis compete in three-mile-long head races. In these races, boats start in intervals and race for time instead of rowing in direct competition with each other. The Head of the Housatonic, hosted annually by the New Haven Rowing Club, is the first of three regattas Yale teams will participate in this fall, followed by the Head of the Charles and the Princeton Chase.
The Eli heavyweights entered Saturday’s regatta after a historic season that saw them win an Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championship for the first time in program history and sweep ancient rival Harvard in the annual Yale-Harvard Regatta for the first time since 1996.
On Saturday, the heavyweights’ first varsity boat successfully defended its first-place finish from last year’s Head of the Housatonic with a time of 12:04.6, more than six seconds ahead of second-place Northeastern. The Bulldogs’ second varsity boat also secured a third-place finish in 12:27.3, edging out Brown’s best boat by two seconds. Absent from Saturday’s regatta was the Harvard heavyweight team, which placed third and fourth in last fall’s race.
“It’s always nice to have the first two boats getting first and third, but it is still very early on in the season,” captain Paul Jacquot ’18 said. “Those results do not mean much besides that we are where we need to be at this point of the year.
Heavyweight head coach Steve Gladstone explained that the fall involves no speedwork and is instead designated for mechanical adjustments in stroke and forming a strong conditioning base. While acknowledging his team’s success, he urged against an early coronation.
“The fall head-races are really nothing more than a break in training,” Gladstone said. “As a predictor [of spring performance], there’s not a strong correlation.”
The Bulldog heavyweights will race in one more fall regatta, sending two eights to the Head of the Charles Regatta in two weeks.
The Yale lightweight team last competed as a full team at EARC Sprints in May, where the Elis garnered a gold medal for the 3rd Varsity Eight and silver for the 2nd Varsity Eight.
Lightweight is differentiated from heavyweight by a weight class requirement. No one person on a lightweight team can weigh more than 160 pounds, and the boat as a whole must average below 155 pounds. But at the Head of the Housatonic, for the first and last time this season, weight did not matter. Thus, the lightweight team raced alongside its Yale heavyweight counterparts, and both heavyweight and lightweight teams from throughout New England.
On Saturday, Yale’s lightweight A boat finished in sixth place with a time of 12:38.6, behind only heavyweight boats from Yale, Northeastern and Brown. Lightweight B captured a ninth place finish, separated from the A boat by two Northeastern boats and clocked a 12:48.9. Lightweight C and D finished in 16th and 23rd, respectively. Rival Harvard’s lightweight team took 10th, 11th and 13th places, with its best boat trailing Yale B’s time by more than six seconds.
“Our heavyweights are incredible,” Card said. “They’re a dominant force, the national champions, and we’re happy to share the same waters with them and challenge ourselves to get up to their level. We did that today. We admire what they do, so it’s a real privilege and honor [to compete at that level].”
The lightweights will also send a portion of their team to the Head of the Charles, and the complete roster will race again at the Princeton Three-Mile Chase the following weekend.
The Eli women returned to the water off a successful 2016-2017 campaign. The Bulldogs grabbed the top collegiate finish at the Head of the Charles last fall and went on to place seventh at the NCAA championships, the highest finish for the program since 2010.
In the Women’s Collegiate Eights, Yale replicated its performance from a year ago at the same regatta. Building off that superb season, Eli boats took three of Saturday’s top five finishes, in a display that showcased the team’s depth. The first two boats had only each other as competition cruising to first and second-place finishes in 13:35.9 and 13:53.2, well ahead of third-placed Brown and Radcliffe in fourth. Despite the fact that the two schools merged in 1999, Radcliffe still races its own women’s boats distinct from Harvard and still maintains its own boathouse. The Bulldogs third boat came in fifth — with the fourth and final Eli boat finishing 14th. Yale displayed clear dominance on the day over the other entered teams, including Brown, Radcliffe and Northeastern.
“It is very early and obviously we have a long way to go, but today we raced very well as a team,” women’s Head Coach Will Porter said. “We were eager to run up our course and we had fun doing it, just letting it rip.”
The Bulldogs will travel to Cambridge next to defend their Head of the Charles collegiate championship title. It took two boats comprised of Olympians to keep the Elis from a first-place overall finish a year ago, and they will look to maintain their level of performance in two weeks.
The 53rd Head of the Charles Regatta — the world’s largest two-day rowing event — will take place on Oct. 21 and 22.
Angela Xiao | firstname.lastname@example.org