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Sports

Harvard is not expecting to run away with these Sprints

WORCESTER - For the Boston-area crews competing in today’s Eastern Sprints Regatta on Lake Quinsigamond, the objective might be the same - winning - but the story lines couldn’t be more different.

Start with undefeated Harvard, which seeks its third consecutive Sprints title while adding another chapter to the program’s latest golden era. Then there’s a Northeastern crew eager to shelve the disappointments of a year ago, while Boston University is looking to rekindle the magic of 2011, when it made a rare appearance in the Grand Final.

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MIT, meanwhile, is simply trying to find its way up the fiercely competitive Sprints ladder.

Harvard enters the event as the top seed based on spring results that include the San Diego Classic title and close decisions over Brown, Navy, and Northeastern. Although the Crimson have beaten 20 straight dual opponents dating back to 2010, coach Harry Parker, now in his 50th season, is far too wise to think the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

“We’re blessed with an extremely strong squad, but the field has clearly tightened in recent weeks,’’ said Parker. “Everyone knows Brown is formidable, but we can’t underestimate any crew. There are a number of strong boats.’’

Aiding Harvard’s pursuit of a record 28th Sprints crown are Patrick Lapage, in his third year as varsity stroke, and captain Michael DiSanto, a Boston native and Belmont Hill grad who mans the 7-seat.

“Our seniors are particularly savvy and are the reason for the success we’ve had,’’ said Parker, who also has senior Sam O’Connor in the 6-seat as well as four seniors in his unbeaten second varsity. “They recognize how tough the competition is and the effort it takes to come out on top.’’

Sixth-seeded Northeastern will get a first-hand look, finding itself matched up with the Crimson in a morning heat that also includes No. 7 Princeton, No. 12 Dartmouth, No. 13 Georgetown, and No. 18 MIT. The top two finishers advance to the Grand Final, the next two head to the Petites, and the fifth- and sixth-place crews are sent to the Third Level Final.

For the youthful Huskies, who employ six sophomores in their varsity, a solid Sprints showing would provide a final break from a frustrating 2011.

“Last year was the toughest I’ve had at NU, but we’ve turned it around,’’ said coach John Pojednic. “And while we’re young, the guys don’t act that way. They’ve shown maturity and confidence, and I admire how they’ve handled the challenges we’ve faced.

“We’ll be ready to race fast, but with the depth in the field, there will be some pretty good crews in the Petites.’’

To illustrate the point, BU is seeded ninth even though it lost to No. 4 Wisconsin by just sixth-10ths of a second two weeks ago. Now the Terriers get a rematch in a morning heat that also features No. 3 Navy, No. 10 Yale, George Washington, and Holy Cross.

“That race against Wisconsin was our best of the spring,’’ said BU coach Tom Bohrer. “Although we didn’t win, it was as positive as it could have been for us. It showed that we’re gaining speed on the top crews. For us to be successful, we’ll need to get off the line strong and stay in the action.’’

The other morning heat is headlined by No. 2 Brown, a crew that many consider at least a co-favorite. The Bears fell to Harvard by less than a second in their dual encounter, while their winning margins over common opponents NU and Princeton were larger than the Crimson’s.

In the lightweight division, Harvard is the defending champion and seeded first after posting a 9-0 dual mark. Dartmouth is the second seed and Georgetown third in the 10-school field.

The women’s Eastern Sprints take place today on the Cooper River in Camden, N.J., where four conference champions are represented: top-seeded Virginia (ACC), No. 2 Northeastern (CAA), Rhode Island (Atlantic 10), and Bucknell (Patriot).

“A lot of the schools are seeing each other for the first time, so there’s that unknown factor of how fast each crew is,’’ said Northeastern coach Joe Wilhelm. “That’s going to lead to some intense racing to get to the final.’’

And while Wilhelm acknowledges that Virginia is the clear favorite - the Cavaliers are ranked No. 2 in the nation - his crew is eager to see how it stacks up.

“We graduated a solid senior class in 2011 and that left a void, but our returning athletes have responded,’’ he said. “Since the end of last year, our captains have focused the team on preparing for this regatta.’’

The Ivy League women’s championships will run concurrently on the Cooper River after the league elected to hold its own event instead of competing at Sprints. Princeton is the top seed, followed by Brown, Radcliffe, and Yale.

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