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Two weeks after their first place showing at the EARC Sprints, the Quakers head to the IRA national championships on Pennsauken's Cooper River. As one of the most successful Penn teams of the 1998 spring season, the Quakers men's crew team hopes to show that it is one of the nation's top teams at this weekend's Intercollegiate Rowing Championships at the Cooper River in Pennsauken, N.J. Although the races during the season were key in solidifying Penn's position in the world of intercollegiate rowing, the IRA Championship is the most important event of the season. Penn's showing at the championships in Pennsauken, which run from today through Saturday, will weigh heavily on how successful the Quakers' season is viewed to be. Last spring, the Quakers' varsity eight boat finished a disappointing seventh at the IRAs. This year, however, Penn has higher hopes after the first varsity eight took first at the EARC Sprints -- the crew equivalent of the Ivy League championship -- two weeks ago. The second varsity eight finished fourth at Easterns, while the freshman eight took home tenth place. Penn's finish at Easterns may be a good sign for the Quakers, as recent history suggests a good showing at Easterns accompanies a good showing at IRAs. "We flip-flopped between the 1996 and 1997 spring rowing seasons," Penn coach Stan Bergman said before the season. "In 1996, we didn't fare too well in our cup races and then went on to win Easterns and finish third at IRAs. In 1997, we had a terrific cup race season and then finished seventh at both postseason contests. This season, we'd like to see success on both ends of the season." With the Eastern title already under their belts, the Quakers only have the IRA Championships remaining on their schedule. Penn finished off its cup season this past Friday with a convincing victory over Cornell at the Madeira Cup in the Schuylkill River. The first varsity eight boat cruised to first place in 5:35.6, over 15 seconds before the Big Red crossed the finish line. The second varsity eight boat had just as easy a victory, winning by 18.5 seconds in 5:45.9. In fact, the freshman four was the only Penn boat that did not cross the finish line first at the Madeira Cup, as both the freshman eight and varsity four finished before Cornell. The IRAs will host several teams that the Quakers have already faced this spring. The only teams that competed in the Eastern Sprints who will not attend the IRA Championships are Harvard and Yale. The Crimson and the Elis elected not to compete at the 103-year-old IRAs, but instead will face each other in the 133rd annual Harvard-Yale Regatta, the oldest collegiate sporting event in the nation. In addition to Penn's familiar foes, several West Coast rowing powerhouses, including defending champion Washington, will be in attendance at IRAs. As a result of their first place finish at Eastern Sprints, Penn earned one of the top seeds at IRAs. Penn and the three other seeded teams -- Washington, California and Princeton -- will be in separate heats. The other teams will be placed randomly into the heats. Princeton, the third place finisher at Eastern Sprints, earned a seed since Harvard, the runner-up at Easterns, will not be at IRAs. Two weeks ago, Penn proved that it is the best crew team on the East Coast this year. When the West Coast rowing teams invade the Cooper River for the national championship this weekend, the Quakers will have the opportunity to see where they rank on a larger scale.

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