"It would be huge," said rower Derek Maier. "It would be the biggest thing that this program has ever done. It would set the tone for the next couple of years."
Like most of the hundreds of crews that lined the river yesterday, a gold medal at the Dad Vail would be a defining moment for Delaware.
The Dad Vail's organizers call this competition the largest collegiate regatta in the United States. And judging by the reaction of most of the competitors, it's also the most important.
The Blue Hens finished the 2,000-meter course in 5 minutes, 52.57 seconds. The performance comes on the heels of winning a silver medal at last year's regatta.
Their 2010 performance "has fueled us for the last year," said rower Patrick Kenny. "Just looking at that silver medal every day kind of pushes you."
For Canada's Brock University, early-season practice usually starts with breaking up ice on the Canadian Henley Rowing Course.
While most American rowers have been in season for months, the cold usually keeps the Brock crew from practicing until early March.
"This year, we had an especially cold snap," said coach Peter Somerwil.
It's a daunting task, but, thus far, Brock seems particularly adept at weathering the Canadian weather. In 2010, just its fourth year competing at the Dad Vail, Brock took home first place in the men's varsity heavyweight eight.
"Dad Vail is one of our priorities for the year," said Brock rower Brendan Coffey. "Our main racing season in Canada is usually in the fall. So as soon as we can get in the water in early March, we start gearing toward Dad Vails."
Brock University is located in St. Catherines, Ontario. It's only a 20-minute drive from Niagara Falls and an eight-hour drive to Philadelphia.
But according to Coffey, the Dad Vail is worth the trip.
"Dad Vail really put us on the map," said Coffey, whose varsity heavyweight eight crew posted a preliminary time of 6:01.08, good enough for a spot in the semifinals. "And there's definitely some pressure this year, but we hope to feed off that."
To graduate - or not
The University of Massachusetts entered this year's Dad Vail as the defending champion in the women's varsity lightweight eight.
So why did the Minutewomen show up with only enough rowers to field a varsity lightweight four?
"The race actually falls right on our graduation this year," said senior rower Carly Payne. "Everyone just kind of made the decision that worked for them. But for those of us that are here, we would just all rather be here. We love this event."
Payne and teammate Liz Euiler, both graduating seniors, rowed on last year's championship team. They insist there wasn't animosity towards the members of the team that decided to stay home.