First up Saturday was the men's four against Delaware, St Thomas, Rochester, Navy, and Minnesota. It was the teams first time ever advancing to the 3rd final of the varsity four.
Coach Ramirez says the team was quite pleased with Friday's 2nd place semifinal finish to Navy to earn the spot, and that they were optimistic about being competitive for a top 3 finish in the final. They knew they were facing high quality crews though and expected a tough battle from all lanes all the way down the mile and a quarter long course.
The Hounds basic strategy was to play their "hard start" strategy to reasonably good effect, establishing a good position in the field. They hoped to add a new burst of speed to their last thousand to help them against larger crews from Minnesota, and faster crews from Navy and Rochester. There was one bauble during the start due to a missed catch, but the crew recovered from it almost imperceptibly. They started a little higher than normal at 42 strokes per minute for the first 10 strokes of the race, settled to a fast 38 for their next 20 strokes and then eased it back to a more sustainable 34 spm through the first 500 mark. Although their average boat speed was just slightly less than the semifinal first thousand, the crew was biding their time waiting for the opportune moment to press the lead.
At the thousand meter mark is where the crew turned on their Saturday final efforts. By holding a higher stroke rate overall, the crew was able to row the third 500 meters an average of 0.75 seconds faster than Friday, and last 500 meters an average of 3.83 seconds faster than Fridays semifinal. This second half sped enabled them to duel much more closely with Delaware all the way down the course and to overcome a tough crew from St Thomas. By the middle of the race the Minnesota and Rochester crews had already taken solid leads on the field and the hounds were forced to chase from behind.
Like all championship level finals this one had close finishes. Rochester took first place over Minnesota by just over 2 seconds. Navy kept their 3.56 second advantage for third, and Delaware bested Loyola for fourth by 3.17 seconds. The surprise of the race was the speed that Minnesota had relative to their semifinal. Minnesota was able to stretch out to a 6.1 second lead after losing to the Hounds by less than a second on Friday.
The men's pair also was attempting to improve on their first two races and tried a new race strategy designed to take advantage of their good sprinting ability by saving energy during the second and third 500 meter segments.
They started the race at the usual high rate but settled down relatively early, at 300 meters, to a sustainable 33-33.5 strokes per minute. Their 1000 meter power move was much more effective as well. The two pulled things off exactly as planned and had their best row of the weekend at just the right time. Although they hit the halfway point in 6th position they turned up the stroke rate up at 1500 meters, again at 1600, and again at 1700 so that they were sprinting at 36 beats per minute, rowing through Brown and Navy to finish 4th, just 2.5 seconds behind George Washington and 5 seconds behind Georgetown. Loyola Marymount of Los Angeles won the petite Final 4.6 seconds ahead of their nearest rival.
The Saturday finals may be the last we see of Loyola at the IRA national championship for a few years due to location and format changes as well as elimination of the small boat categories that Loyola has been successful at for the past 6 years. Next year the Championship moves to the West coast for the first time. The Board of Stewards has decided to eliminate the varsity 4 and pair for at least 2009, so the team will need to qualify for the varsity heavy or light 8's race as one of the top 24 in the nation.