At 10:30 a.m. on the Schuylkill River, the air is crisp, the sun shines with a lukewarm light and everything is calm – unless it’s race day.
And this Saturday is one of those days.
The Penn men’s lightweight rowing team will host the annual Matthews-Leonard Cups, which involve races between Penn and Cornell. This year, Harvard has been invited as a guest and will participate in the race, though the contention of the Cups is only between Penn and Cornell.
Following the Cups’ conclusion, the Quakers will face Mercyhurst later the same day.
“I’m anxious to race,” Penn coach Nick Baker said. “I’m anxious to see how we do, not so much to see the result, but to see how the crew performs.”
Over the past year, the team has been working on many technical aspects, so for Baker, the race will be a test.
“We’re trying to change not only the way we approach racing, but the way we’re rowing this year,” he said. “So I’m anxious to see if the guys can perform at a high level when we add stress.”
That stress will come in the form of Harvard, a defending national champion, and Cornell, a perennial lightweight powerhouse.
“I would say Harvard right now is by far and away the quickest crew in the League right now,” senior captain Mark Gannon said. “[I] don’t know too much about this Cornell squad and what they have this year, but they’re always competitive early on in the year. They have a deep program so we know that it’s going to be a dog fight between us and Cornell.”
Last year, Penn finished behind both No. 5 Cornell and No. 1 Harvard at the Matthews-Leonard Cups hosted by the Big Red.
Beyond the Cups, both Baker and Gannon are also focusing on long-term goals – specifically the Ivy championships, which are called the Eastern Sprints and will take place on May 19.
“This is just one race in many dual races leading up to the Eastern Sprints,” Gannon said. “So we’re looking to advance ourselves and get a little better each weekend so we can prepare ourselves to hit our ultimate goals [for] the Eastern Sprints.”
Baker is also aiming for the Eastern Sprints but has a more holistic view.
“We’re talking about this season being a journey,” Baker said. “We’re attempting to improve everything we do every time we go out there. And this group has been great in that aspect.”
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