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The Boston Globe

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EASTERN SPRINTS

Northeastern yearns for a Harvard rematch

The unpredictable Charles River has always been a perfect environment for survival training on the water. But for local crews in search of perfect rowing conditions, well, your best bet is to look for another, more placid body of water.

“We’ve often said, as coaches on the Charles, our biggest challenge is that we can’t clock fast times because of the conditions,’’ said Northeastern men’s rowing coach John Pojednic. “There’s the current, the wind, the cold [temperature] of the water, things like that.’’

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Two weeks ago, in conditions not suited for speed, NU’s varsity eight toed the line against Harvard and defied the odds by engaging the second-ranked Crimson in a memorable Smith Cup duel that more resembled a drag race between speedboats on the Charles.

Harvard’s oarsmen finished first in an astounding 5 minutes 30.8 seconds, while NU was runner-up in 5:34.2. Both crews broke the Charles River record set by Harvard (5:37.3) in the 2000 Smith Cup.

“The fact we were able to — on a cold and windy day with a current — really crack into what I would call a more elite level of boat speed was certainly exciting,’’ said Pojednic, whose team, third in the US Rowing collegiate poll, suffered its only loss during the regular season in the Smith Cup. “I never really thought about that until a few days after.’’

On Sunday at the Eastern Sprints at Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester, the second-seeded Huskies will be looking to qualify for a berth opposite top-seeded Harvard in the varsity grand final.

Harvard will be matched against eighth-ranked Boston University, No. 12 Wisconsin, No. 15 Dartmouth, No. 16 Syracuse, and Rutgers.

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“I think right now, we see ourselves as having to perform well in the heat and to earn the opportunity to race Northeastern and Brown and others in the final,’’ said Bill Manning, Harvard’s associate coach. “If we’re thinking about Northeastern and Brown and others right now, we may be watching them race.’’

NU will row in the second heat against ninth-ranked Cornell, 10th-ranked Yale, No. 14 Columbia, No. 17 Georgetown, and MIT.

Fifth-ranked Brown, the third seed, will draw the first lane in the third heat against Princeton (No. 7), Penn (No. 11), Navy (No. 13), George Washington (No. 20), and Holy Cross.

“We’ve got to be worried about Boston University and the other schools we’ll race in the heat,” said Manning. “Can we perform to our best? The great thing about the season that we’ve had is that if we do perform to our best, it’s going to take something pretty spectacular to finish ahead of us.’’

Even then, it wasn’t enough for Northeastern to defeat Harvard in the Smith Cup.

The Huskies and Crimson were even after 500 meters, seemingly trading the lead with each stroke.

Harvard increased its stroke pace near the 800-meter mark to gain a slight lead as the boats passed beneath the Mass­achusetts Avenue bridge, the midway point of the 2,000-meter race, then took a six-seat lead by the 1,500-meter mark to post a 3.4-second victory.

“It’s about the race,” said Manning. “It’s wonderful to go fast, but you’re out there thinking, ‘What do we need to do to be ahead of the other crew?’

“It’s very impressive that 18 athletes can go that speed, but I really wasn’t thinking too much about the time. I was mainly concerned about the fact we were racing a really good crew and could we be better than them on the day? We were fortunate on that day that we were. It was a really great test.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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