Former Atlantic City High School rowing coach John Bancheri likes to say that he has the greatest job in the world.

"Driving a motorboat to help kids get better at something they love," he said.

Now in his fourth year as coach at Michigan's Grand Valley State University, Bancheri, who motors behind his crews as they practice their strokes back home, is back in Philadelphia on the Schuylkill with his nationally ranked team for this weekend's 71st annual Dad Vail Regatta.

The regatta, with more than 120 crews and 3,300 rowers from colleges across the United States and Canada, opens tomorrow at 7 a.m. with qualifying heats. It continues Saturday with the championship races in 19 divisions beginning at 1 p.m. and ending around 5.

Bancheri's rowers are among the favorites in the featured race: the men's varsity heavyweight eight. They are seeded third behind top-seeded Michigan and Florida International.

The Temple men, who have won 21 of the last 25 men's varsity heavyweight eight races, and defending champion Purdue are seeded fourth and fifth, respectively. Temple was third in the race last year. Purdue was the overall points winner.

In the women's varsity heavyweight eight race, St. Joseph's and Drexel are seeded third and fifth, respectively. Grand Valley is the top seed, and Buffalo is seeded second.

Buffalo is the defending women's points champion, and coach Rudy Wieler has high expectations again this year.

"We expect to defend in the women's varsity eight," he said.

Likewise, St. Joseph's women's coach Gerry Quinlan is looking for big things from his varsity eight. The Hawks are coming off a win in the Cal Cup at the San Diego Crew Classic, and that victory earned them an invitation to the prestigious Jessop-Whittier Cup in 2010.

"We're a young team, and this is the most talented group we've had," Quinlan said. "This [success] puts a lot of pressure on them."

Temple is seeded second, behind Michigan, in the men's junior varsity eight, and Delaware is seeded fourth. Delaware, the men's points winner last year, is seeded first in the men's varsity lightweight eight, and St. Joseph's is third behind Georgia Tech.

Delaware won the men's freshman novice lightweight eight and the men's freshman novice eight last year.

Keep an eye on Philadelphia University in the women's varsity heavyweight eight for Division II and III schools. The Rams, in just their third year of competing, are seeded fourth behind Mercyhurst, Grand Valley and Dowling.

"Our women's eight has constantly been ranked in the top five for NCAA Division II women's eights," coach Christopher O'Brien said.

St. Joseph's is seeded fifth in the women's junior varsity heavyweight eight.

There was at least one casualty of the economy this year. Cal-Davis will not travel east to defend its women's varsity eight championship due to budget restraints.

Contact staff writer Don Beideman at 267-815-0733 or dbeideman@phillynews.com.