As six boats traveled 2,000 meters in the men’s heavyweight grand final of the Eastern Sprints on Sunday, Harvard opened up a sizeable lead on most of its competitors – not a surprise, considering the Crimson eight was undefeated on the year and had won the last two Sprints titles. The surprise was that Brown would not fall off of the pace. Brown – which had lost three of its six races this season, including one against Harvard – edged the Crimson by 0.3 seconds, taking the Sprints title and surprising many rowing enthusiasts.
As a Princeton sports junkie, I was captivated by this result as well, though for a slightly different reason: Brown’s victory denied Harvard the Ivy League heavyweight rowing title. With wins in Sunday’s other races, men’s lightweight and women’s crew, Harvard increased its conference championship count to 10. One more title – say, in men’s heavyweight crew – and the Crimson would have had 11, topping Princeton.
But the Bears pulled off the upset, and Harvard finished with 10 championships, tied with the Tigers. It wasn’t quite the dominant performance of last year – when Princeton claimed 15 titles and nobody else had more than seven – but if finishing first in 30 percent of sports marks a decline, the athletic department is in pretty strong shape. (The rest of this year’s list: Cornell 6, Yale 3, Brown 2, Penn 2, Dartmouth 1, Columbia 1.)
Three of this year’s titles, in fact, came in sports that were not among last season’s 15: men’s fencing, men’s squash, and men’s lacrosse. In other words, Princeton won at least one championship over the last two years in more than half of the 33 Ivy League sports. (And remember that these standings do not include non-championship sports such as men’s and women’s water polo, in which the Tigers reached the NCAA Championships this season.)
Princeton will sit atop the unofficial all-sports standings for a 26th straight year, though Harvard will make it much closer than usual (less than 10 points, if my math is correct). To make a run like that, which started before I was born, a program needs a deep base of talent across all teams. Here is the complete list of Ivy League sports in which Princeton teams finished last this year: football (tied with Columbia, which the Tigers beat) and wrestling (tied with Harvard, which the Tigers beat).
Four teams finished second, and seven others took third – including baseball, men’s basketball, and women’s crew, which performed like top-two teams over the course of the season but were hurt by luck or scheduling. Sixty-four percent of Princeton’s teams finished in the top three, even in a season that was a down year for some programs.
Harvard has boosted its profile in the marquee sports – dominating Ivy League football and men’s basketball this year – while also recruiting world-class athletes in sports such as squash and golf; one of these years, the Crimson might top Princeton in Ivy League titles or even the all-sports point total. I won’t be thrilled when it happens, but really, the important part isn’t that Princeton always wins – it’s that Tiger fans (and student journalists) can see competitive, high-quality action at any point in any season.
MEN’S HEAVYWEIGHT CREW finished fourth in the aforementioned race; the fact that they even reached the finals was a minor victory, as Princeton came in seeded seventh. WOMEN’S OPEN CREW earned more points across all races than any other school, but in the first varsity race – which determines the Ivy League champion – the top-seeded Tigers finished third behind Harvard and Cornell, teams that the Tigers handily beat earlier this season.
MEN’S LACROSSE executed a nearly perfect play in the final seconds of its first-round NCAA game against Virginia, as Tom Schreiber ’14 made a beautiful pass to Forest Sonnenfeldt ’13, who had space to do what he does best, uncork a powerful shot. But Virginia midfielder Chris LaPierre jumped into his path and stopped the rocket with his chest, allowing the defending champions to run out the final seconds and advance. Led by goalie Tyler Fiorito ’12 and defenseman Chad Wiedmaier ’12, Princeton’s defense played a brilliant second half, forcing nine turnovers and allowing only one goal. But it was not quite enough in the 6-5 loss, and the Class of 2012 – which Inside Lacrosse called the nation’s top freshman class three years ago – will graduate having won only one NCAA Tournament game. (Read more about the game in a PAW blog post by David Marcus ’92.)
WOMEN’S WATER POLO finished sixth at NCAA Championships, playing exactly to its seed. A 14-2 loss to USC was more or less how the tournament was expected to begin – there remains an enormous gap between West Coast water polo and the rest of the nation – but the Tigers played two competitive games in the consolation bracket, beating Iona before losing to Loyola Marymount. With 29 victories and the team’s first NCAA appearance, 2012 goes down as the most successful season in program history to date.
Two interesting announcements came from the IVY LEAGUE office last week: First, the league announced a new TV deal with the NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus); don’t be fooled by the amusingly modest headline, this deal is a significant expansion from the previous agreement, putting six to 10 football and men’s basketball games on TV each year, as well as a handful of men’s lacrosse games. Secondly, the league said it will not institute a postseason basketball tournament, in response to a proposal that reportedly had the backing of all eight men’s coaches.
Kevin Whitaker ’13 is an economics major and Daily Princetonian sports editor.