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Harvard crew sweeps away NU for 15th Smith Cup

Second-ranked Harvard remained undefeated in men’s heavyweight crew as it fought off a determined Northeastern eight to capture the Smith Cup on the chilly and choppy Charles River Saturday morning. Harvard took the cup for the 15th consecutive year.

The Crimson rowed the 2,000-meter course into a strong headwind in 6 minutes 21.2 seconds while the game Huskies clocked a 6:24.6. Harvard improved to 6-0 on the season, while Northeastern dropped to 6-2 with its other loss to third-ranked Brown.

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“Northeastern pressed us hard,’’ said Harvard coach Harry Parker. “We did a pretty good job of countering in some tough conditions.’’

The Crimson won the Smith Cup for the 21st time to just three victories by NU.

Harvard was quick off the stake boats, but the Huskies answered. Harvard held a slight edge at the 500-meter mark, gradually increasing to a half-boat length at 1,000 meters. Northeastern picked up a seat as the crews rowed under the Massachusetts Avenue bridge.

The teams stroked evenly as they passed MIT’s Pierce Boathouse. Northeastern went into an early sprint as the crews reached 1,500 meters, picking up two seats on the Crimson. Harvard rose to the challenge in the final 250 meters to keep the Cup by three-quarters of a boat length.

Northeastern coach John Pojednic was not surprised his 10th-ranked crew was able to keep pace.

“They’re tough kids,’’ Pojednic said. “We’re a very young crew, with six sophomores in the boat. We also have a junior coxswain and a junior in the 7-seat who came to us as a true novice.

“We came out of this week with a lot of confidence. On Wednesday, we’d probably have lost to them by 2 lengths. We had great practices Thursday and Friday, although we had to practice very early and for short periods due to final exams.

“We have students in tough academic majors, and although our practice this week was limited by the exams, our guys were focused and worked very hard.’’

The win for Harvard virtually guarantees the Crimson the top seed in the Eastern Sprints May 13 on Lake Quinsigamond. Parker knows Harvard is the crew everyone else will be targeting.

“Nobody’s taken it easy on us all spring,’’ he said with a laugh. “There’s no shortage of competition.’’

Harvard also took the freshman and second varsity races. The freshman race featured the top two ranked teams in the Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges poll.

Parker was asked if the momentum his crew has built through the regular season would diminish with the two-week break before the Sprints.

“It’s an interesting time for just about everyone,’’ he said. “We’re going into final exams, as are most teams. That makes it more difficult to stay focused. Quite often the teams that can best keep that focus are the teams that do well at the Sprints.

“I’d actually like three weeks off.’’

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