WORCESTER, Mass. -- The script was basically the same; only the year was different as the Columbia men's lightweights delivered two dramatic finishes for the second straight season at the Eastern (EARC) Sprints.
The Lions' varsity eight secured the final qualifying spot for the National Lightweight Championship next month, and the second varsity eights, nearly replicating the showing of last season's freshman eight, earned the bronze medal by finishing third of six in the Grand Final. The 2011 freshman eight had captured the silver medal.
Columbia's other lightweight entrant, the freshman eight, narrowly missed its own Grand Final, but fought its way to third in the Petite Final.
The EARC coaches had seeded the Columbia varsity seventh, but the Lions were aiming for a top-six Grand Final berth. It seemed likely when Columbia got off to a good start in its opening heat. The Lions were in great shape through the first 700 meters, only to lose their edge at that point. Dartmouth pulled away easily to win the heat, but Columbia recovered enough to put scares into Cornell and Georgetown before fading to fourth.
To qualify for the final national championship spot, Columbia would have to defeat both Navy and Penn in the Petite Final. Although the Lions had defeated both during the regular season, the Midshipmen and Quakers had enjoyed solid campaigns, and would be tough to beat.
"We were nervous," head coach Scott Alwin said. "You could tell that. They were pacing around, waiting to go on the water."
Then the news came from the Cooper River course -- the second varsity had finished third to earn a bronze medal!. "I didn't say anything to them," Alwin said, "but I didn't have to. They took the challenge the 2V had presented. [When they rowed in the Petite Final], they were really focused."
Columbia's time of 6:20.859, nearly the same as its morning heat clocking, beat Navy's by 7.7 seconds, with Penn 10 more seconds back. Although the times were similar, Alwin rated the row far better than the morning heat.
The second varsity found itself in a challenging opening heat, having to finish no worse than third against the likes of Harvard, Navy and Cornell.
To the surprise of that trio, the Lions jumped into the lead and held on through the first 1000 meters. When Cornell and Navy came on, Columbia turned the top spot over to them, but knew it had enough fuel to hold off Harvard. The Lions crossed the line 2.7 seconds in front of the Crimson.
As the second varsity Grand Final loomed, Alwin noted a collective emotion from his rowers -- "they were pretty confident," he said. Once the race got going, Columbia had to use its peripheral vision -- trying to catch front-running Yale and Cornell while still holding off a highly-talented threesome of Princeton, Navy and Dartmouth.
The strategy worked. Although Yale won the gold medal with a time of 6:09.615, the Lions' time of 6:13.809 just missed second-place Cornell (6:11.602) and held off Navy (4th, 6:16.120), Princeton (5th, 6:20.788) and Dartmouth (6th, 6:24.303).
The freshman eight rowed its fastest 2000 meters all season, but was challenged in a strong heat. Nevertheless, Columbia nearly made the Grand Final, missing by the 1.2 seconds it trailed Cornell. The Lions then finished third in the Petite.
Despite their successful rows, the second varsity and freshmen saw their seasons end at the Sprints. The varsity eight, and possibly a varsity four, will row at the National Lightweight Championship, held at the IRA Regatta in Pennsauken, N.J. June 4.     
By dint of the second varsity's bronze, following 2011's freshman eight silver, five Lions earned their second EARC Sprints medal in as many years.
They included Anders Smedsrud, elevated to stroke just in time for the Sprints; Curtis Kachline, 7; Connor Dougherty, 6; John Hold, 4; Noah Buckley, 2; and Steven Boyle, bow.
Today's results:

Eastern Sprints (EARC) - lightweights
Sunday, May 13, 2012
Lake Quinsigamond, Worcester, Mass.

Varsity Eights - Petite Final

1. COLUMBIA, 6:20.859
2. Navy, 6:28.516
3. Penn, 6:38.160
(4th of 4 in heat)

Second Varsity Eights - Grand Final
1. Yale, 6:09.615
2. Cornell, 6:11.602
3. COLUMBIA, 6:13.809
4. Navy, 6:16.120
5. Princeton, 6:20.788
6. Dartmouth, 6:24.303
(3rd of 4 in heat)

Freshman Eights - Petite Final
1. Penn, 6:31.268
2. MIT, 6:33.189
3. COLUMBIA, 6:35.690
4. Georgetown, 6:47.076
(4th of 5 in heat)

Today's Boatings:

Varsity Eight
Stone Cao, cox; Daniel Kirrane, stroke; Bruno Salemme, 7; John O'Mara, 6; James Kahmann, 5; Blake Pinell, 4; James Winford, 3; Roger Stone, 2; Graham Pupo, bow

Second Varsity Eight

Erica Cunningham, cox; Anders Smedsrud, stroke; Curtis Kachline, 7; Connor Dougherty, 6; Lane Brokaw, 5; John Hold, 4; John Zucchi, 3; Noah Buckley, 2; Steven Boyle, bow

Freshman Eight

Logan Pirkl, cox; Griffin Whitlock, stroke; Ben Blair, 7; Fredrik Aasaaren, 6; Matt Bellesheim, 5; Travis Simon, 4; Charlie Stigler, 3; Max Segall, 2; Thabet Mahayni,  bow