GOLD RIVER, Calif. - It took more of an effort than ideal, but the Harvard women's rowing team actually saved energy yesterday.
With the fastest closing 500 meters in their heat and the second fastest among the field of 16 teams, Harvard finished third in the opening heat and advanced to the Division 1 semifinals of the NCAA Championships.
Harvard, ranked seventh, completed the 2,000-meter course at Lake Natoma in 6 minutes 27.56 seconds in the first of 16 opening-day races. Yale, the defending varsity eight champion, won the heat in 6:25.60.
Brown, the defending team champion, won the second heat (6:23.12) in the fastest time of the day. Top-seeded California claimed the third heat in 6:23.79.
The top three finishers in each heat advanced. But the remaining boats, seeking one of the three remaining semifinal spots, were required to row in yesterday afternoon's repechage.
"I was pleased with the way they advanced directly," said Harvard coach Liz Leary. "They rowed a pretty strong race, particularly the last 500 meters the way they came back through Wisconsin.
"It's always a little nerve-racking for a coach to see them do it that way. But if that's the way they're going to do it, that's OK with me."
Competing in ideal conditions, Harvard began slowly. The Crimson, positioned in lane 4, were fourth behind Michigan State midway through the race. Michigan State, which finished second, and Harvard eventually passed Wisconsin, which was relegated to the repechage.
Michigan, Southern Cal (repechage), and Stanford, which received at-large invitations, all advanced. Clemson, the fourth invited team, did not advance.
"Coming through the 750 meters and approaching 1,000 meters we really brought up the stroke rating and started to move up," said Harvard junior cocaptain Liz Demers. "There's definitely room for us to improve, but we'll have to set ourselves up well."
Harvard's second varsity eight and varsity four didn't fare as well. The second eight finished fifth (6:54.63) in a six-boat race won by Ohio State (6:44.87). The varsity four finished sixth (8:00.92) in a six-team race won by Washington (7:31.66).
"I was really happy to see the second varsity boat in contention, not to win it but in contention in the pack," said Leary. "At the 1,000-meter mark they were able to move on other crews. I'm encouraged for them in the repechage.
"The varsity four boat is struggling a little bit. They have a couple of younger kids in the boat who are great but less experienced."
Harvard's second varsity eight and varsity four will compete in repechage races today. The Division 1 petite and grand finals will be held tomorrow. The team competition will be based only on points accumulated in tomorrow's seven D-1 races.
In addition to semifinals and repechage events, the grand final for Division 3 will be held today.
Western Washington, the defending Division 2 champion, advanced easily while winning its heat in 6:54.29, followed by Dowling in 7:12.00.
Williams, seeking its fourth straight Division 3 title, had the fastest qualifying time while winning the first of two heats in 6:46.84, followed by St. Lawrence in 6:55.07.