"It's more a mental thing than anything else," Drexel senior John Pieper said. "No one knows how fast you rowed until after the race but everyone looks at the results and how they stand against everybody else. It's usually hard to tell who was rowing harder. But when they see the results, teams make sure that they pick their game up."
On the women's side, Temple's rowers, who were saved on Feb. 24 after the university's board of trustees reversed a decision to discontinue the sport, moved five boats into the next round.
Conditions were relatively calm on the Schuylkill. The day began in a light fog before the sun broke through, then concluded under overcast skies.
With senior Sebastian Ryan in the stroke seat, Drexel took an early lead in their heat of the heavyweight eight and remained smooth on the 2,000-meter course, finishing a little more than 31/2 seconds ahead of runner-up St. Joseph's, to qualify for Saturday morning's semifinals.
"We ran a solid race," Pieper said. "We got ahead pretty quick and brought it down and powered through the rest of our race. We're very happy with the way we raced."
The Dragons, who qualified seven men's boats and four women's boats, advanced in three events that they won last year – the men's varsity pair, the men's freshman/novice heavyweight eight and the women's junior varsity eight, which posted the fastest time in its event, 6:29.285.
Temple advanced in three men's events, including the varsity heavyweight eight, in addition to the five women's events. The Owls women won their heats in the freshman/novice four with coxswain and the freshman/novice heavyweight eight, and clocked 6:40.888 in qualifying for the varsity heavyweight eight semifinals.
"We're feeling very excited," coach Rebecca Grzybowski said. "The key was putting everything together. We've had a pretty solid year. We're just controlling what we can control. The only control we have is when we're in our boats, and we're in there to take care of business."
Grzybowski said that the threat of having her program cut for financial considerations "fired everybody up to try to make this the best season we could.
"We wanted to focus on this season because that's the only season we have control over," she said. "We want to take this to the limit, put our heads down and stick together."
Villanova advanced seven boats - four men and three women - to Saturday while St. Joseph's pulled five boats through.
Michigan's Grand Valley State, which won the women's points total last year, posted the fastest times in two events – the women's heavyweight eight (6:30.642) and the women's freshman/novice four with coxswain (7:35.284).