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Originally published June 3, 2011 at 6:10 PM | Page modified June 4, 2011 at 12:26 PM

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UW crew falls to Harvard in semis, but can make amends in final

After a 15-minute delay and a disputed lane change, Harvard University handed Washington's varsity eight crew its first loss of the season Friday in the semifinals of the 109th Intercollegiate Rowing Association national championships.

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CAMDEN, N.J. — What's a national title without a little controversy?

After a 15-minute delay and a disputed lane change, Harvard University handed Washington's varsity eight crew its first loss of the season Friday in the semifinals of the 109th Intercollegiate Rowing Association national championships.

Harvard turned in the fastest time of the day on the Cooper River, catching the Huskies midway through the 2,000-meter course and winning with a time of 5 minutes, 25.889 seconds. Washington, ranked No. 1 in the country, finished second in 5:27.607.

The two crews will go head-to-head Saturday, along with rival California (5:29.057), to determine the 2011 national champion.

According to a race official, Friday's final race of the day was delayed for two reasons. First, Harvard's boat was pulled from the water and checked for damage. Once it was cleared to race, Harvard's boat was moved from the third lane to the fifth lane because of strong crosswinds.

Washington's boat remained in Lane 4.

"I have a lot of thoughts on it," Washington coach Michael Callahan said when asked about the lane change. "In regattas you do want to favor the top-seeded crews. I find it interesting that we are the No. 1 seeded crew and we won (Thursday) and we weren't put in the best lane.

"They took a crew that's a lower seed and put them in a better lane than us."

Callahan contends the fifth lane received a stronger tail wind than the fourth lane and gave the Crimson an unfair advantage.

Dan Thomspon, the chief referee for the IRAs, said the regatta's Fairness Committee granted Harvard's request to change lanes.

The controversy should make for an intriguing day of racing Saturday afternoon, when Washington attempts to avenge last year's second-place finish against California.

"It's going to be a hot field, very fast," said Harvard junior Matthew Edstein of Sydney, Australia. "We need to stay with them in the middle and see what happens at the end."

That was Harvard's strategy against Washington on Friday. The Huskies opened up a four-seat lead through about 700 meters, but then hit a strong crosswind that allowed Harvard to pull even at about the midway mark.

"The conditions changed around a little in the second half and we got a little squirrelly," said Washington senior Hans Struzyna of Kirkland.

If Friday's results are any indication, Saturday's grand final should match the hype that preceded the nation's oldest and most competitive regatta.

"I don't think I've ever seen the level this high," Cal coach Michael Teti said.

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