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Season Recap: Lights Win Jope Cup and Return to Medal Stands at IRAs

Four regatta wins, two cup victories, an 8-1 dual-racing record, a silver medal at the conference championships, a bronze at the national championships add up to a very successful 2009 campaign for Harvard lightweight crew. And that is just the accomplishments of the varsity eight.

As a team, Harvard reclaimed the Ralph T. Jope Cup as league champion and medaled in all five races at the EARC Sprints. The Crimson swept four opponents and boasted winning records in all five boats.

Led by captain Jeff Overington, a three-year member of the varsity eight, the Crimson’s top boat improved its dual racing record by six wins from last season and won four more regattas, including two cup races this spring.

With three members of the 2008 varsity eight returning and slew of talented underclassmen fighting for spots in the top boat, the fifth-ranked Crimson opened the season with something to prove. Harvard did not make the grand final at Sprints the year before and did not want history to repeat itself.

The Crimson varsity eight went 4-0 in two regattas on the first day of the racing season. The Harvard team swept Columbia and Georgetown and won two of five races against two-time defending national champion Cornell and Penn on the road.

With wind gusts over 40 miles per hour on the Schuylkill River, the conditions were not safe enough for a dual racing. Instead the crews raced in a single-file, 2,000-meter time trial that was run up-river from the finish line to the start line. Harvard’s varsity eight finished the course in 6:22.2, nine seconds ahead (6:31.3) of the fourth-ranked Big Red. Penn was third in 6:39.

Later in the day, the Crimson drove to Princeton, N.J., to take on the Lions and Hoyas on Lake Carnegie. Harvard’s varsity eight dominated against No. 6 Georgetown and No. 7 Columbia, earning a four-second win over the Hoyas and bettering the Lions’ time by 25 seconds.

The following week, Harvard moved into second in the nation and maintained that ranking heading into the final week of the racing season. The Crimson swept Dartmouth and MIT in the first of back-to-back cup races on the Charles River. Harvard won back the Biglin Bowl, after a one-year hiatus from Newell, with a 12 second margin of victory.

Fifth-ranked Navy gave the Crimson a scare, but Harvard was able hold off the charging Midshipmen in the final strokes of the 2,000 meter race to preserve its undefeated record and bring back the Haines Cup. Harvard freshman eight also picked up a win that morning to improve to 7-0 overall.

The final test of the dual racing season was against No. 1 Princeton and No. 3 Yale for the Goldthwait Cup. The Tigers pulled away early and finished 5.2 seconds ahead of the Crimson to finish their dual racing season unbeaten. Harvard maintained its lead over the Bulldogs throughout the course and bettered their time by 5.5 seconds.

Fifteen days later, the Crimson closed the gap against Princeton in the varsity eight grand final at Sprints to earn a silver medal. The second varsity eight and second freshman eight won bronze, the third varsity eight took home gold and the freshman eight won the silver. It marked the 20th time Harvard won the Jope Cup and the third time in the last six years. The nine members of the varsity eight – Dexter Louie (cox), Moritz Hafner (stroke), Jeff Overington (seven), Will Newell (six), Andrew Trott (five), Jared Dourdeville (four), Martin Eiermann (three), Stephen Barchick (two) and Michael Silvestri (bow) – received second-team All-Ivy League honors.

After almost four weeks without a competition, the varsity eight headed to Sacramento, Calif., for the 107th Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) National Championships. Only seven boats qualified for the national championships, setting up a one-race competition. The Crimson finished less than two seconds behind archrival Yale for a third-place finish and its second medal in as many tries at the IRAs. Princeton, who was the early leader, capped off an undefeated season with the win. The Tigers finished in 6:02.63, followed by the Bulldogs in 6:07.74 and Harvard in 6:09.10.

It marked the 13th medal in 18 trips to the IRAs and third medal in its last three appearances at the national championships.

Seniors Stephen Barchick, Moritz Hafner and Jeff Overington leave Harvard with several Sprints and IRA medals. Hafner won three silver medals and bronze as a member of the varsity eight, while Overington two silver and a bronze medal in the varsity eight and an IRA bronze in the varsity four without coxswain in 2008. Barchick won ilver in the pair last year to go along with his EARC silver and IRA bronze in the varsity eight.

Sophomore Jared Dourdeville also picked up another conference award as he was one of five Harvard male athletes named Academic All-Ivy League for his success on the water and in the classroom.

Six of the nine members of the varsity eight, eight of the nine members of the second varsity eight and third varsity eight will all return for the Crimson next season, setting up what could be a record breaking year for the oarsmen with the crimson and white blades.