The Dad Vails finals started Saturday afternoon in almost perfect conditions. Mid-60's, slightly overcast, no significant wind on the course. And while the sun sometime brightened the Schuylkill River, it also featured trips to the podium by crews from all over the place, from Florida to the northern border of the US, with lots of more between.
Friday had been a bit of a Vailstrom - nothing like 2014, but still with very chunky water that led to a couple unfortunate flips at the start, some buried bow sections, and apretty harrowing crash – but by Saturday afternoon, overall the right crews had advanced to the finals for a shot at the medals, a light tail had lifted, and it was down to who had a championship race in their coffer.
A lightweight eights dual commenced the afternoon, an event that was down to two crews due in part to the BU lightweights racing in the open eight. Georgetown, under new leadership with Kendall Mulligan, versus MIT. In close racing throughout, the Hoya lightweights charged down the island pushing their bow ahead more, showing the fact that they have been racing heavyweights for much of the season. "We are really in the IRA phase of training, sprint mode," Assistant Coach Kieran Emery said. "Our lightweights are racing up today (they doubled in the Women's HW Champ 8) to see more competition to be ready for the premium crews in the IRAs." Mulligan concluded, "Dad Vails are an incredible opportunity to race. Our team is made of great rowers-- intelligent workhorses who want to do well. We have a lot of depth, we are always trying to find the right line-up."
In the Women's Single, Katy Flynn from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, hardly a rowing powerhouse, dominated the course. RPI is in Troy, New York, and its proximity to Saratoga Springs, home to the ARION program, has benefitted her; the ARION training program has produced National Team athletes from its inception. She is coached by Eric Catalano now, but the Electrical Engineering graduate will be going to University of Virginia for graduate school, still with a year of eligibility.
Men's single winner Mark Couwenhoven was the sole rower for University of Maryland Baltimore County. He had left University of Delaware when he Mom, Anne, also a rower for Vesper and other teams, was diagnosed with cancer. Not sure there is a better story to tell the day before Mother's Day, but this talented son also won his Men's Single race over a strong Brock athlete. "I went to the single out of necessity," Couwenhoven said.
The Women's Pair race was tight for second place, with less than 1.4 seconds separating Pittsburgh, Bucknell, and Temple - but it was Georgia Tech that had a solid 7-second lead on the field. Sophomores Gabrielle Gershon and Ramsey Cook "were thrown into the situation" of rowing a pair, but according to their coach, embraced the challenge. "They would row the pair in the dark for an hour in the morning (before the sunrise)," said coach Rodd Talebi.
The Men's Pair was won by Mercyhurst to kick off a Laker dominance in several categories; by the end of the day, Mercyhurst crews had won five events. Although there was a protest after the race on interference between Brock and Canisius, Mercyhurt was clear of the contact in Lane 2, finishing four seconds ahead of the next two boats. The pair always rows the pair—not shifting into 4's or 8's during the season - and their comfort level in this difficult boat class showed. They had gotten second to Canisius in the heat, making "mental errors," said their coach, who knew they could bring it together for the final.
The Women's Novice Four was won for the second year in a row by an enthusiastic club team from Lafayette. The smaller college in Easton, PA, had four brand-spanking-new freshmen in the boat, but held a commanding lead over Middlebury, winning by 12 seconds. They are coached by Rick Kelleher.
Colgate won the Men's Novice Four by five seconds, setting a trend for the team for later in the day. Assistant Coach Anthony Chacon says, "This is probably the most unusual group of athletes I've ever coached. They have put a lot of work in over the winter on the ergs (the 1400-meter pond where Colgate rows in frozen well into April), and they came together as a crew over the last month." The crew was led by a novice (but senior) coxswain who just started in January. "She didn't put up with their nonsense," Chacon noted.
Eastern Michigan, hardly Dad Vail regulars, knew their new frosh squad looked strong in the fall. The Novice Women's Eight came from Michigan to battle in the final against another Michigan team, Grand Valley, to win by four seconds. Coaches Delany Maguire and Kemp Savage took the young women, who were about 50-50 walk-ons and recruits, and taught them the basics carefully. "They learned the right way and rowed well, we only rowed hard once they got it...they are all frosh—and interesting mix of athletes."
The Men's Novice Eight was more of a local scuffle as Drexel, Temple, and Delaware crossed the finish line in that order, four seconds between each boat. Whenever you see Drexel on the award podium, it conjures the quote/concept, "it takes a village." The podium is crowded with teammates, coaches, and supporters, and head coach Paul Savell, always talks about team culture and effort rather than individual stand-outs. Assistant Coach Dave Florio said of the Novice Eight squad: "They are unassuming blue-collar guys that liked to be with each other; they are a special group that have great character and attitude."
In the Women's Double, a familiar name from Scholastic Nationals for years, Boston University freshman Catherine Griskowitz, was on the podium with junior teammate Riona McCormick. They were followed by a strong Georgetown double, and then another double from Boston U. "It was a great race because of our competitors who pushed us," said McCormick. "We had a good start, a decent body, tempo about a 35, a beat high because of the tailwind and flow," said Griskowitz.
The Men's Double was won by a talented Lightweight double from Mercyhurst, but they were doubling into the Quad, so they didn't go to the podium. More from them later.
The Women's JV Four was won by a highly-charged Temple crew. "We have a deep team and practices with this crew has not only made this crew faster but has impacted our top-end speed," said Temple assistant coach Alyssa O'Donnell. "This crew wouldn't be as fast without the Varsity Four—they push each other," she explains. The crew includes three freshman recruits, one senior, and a sophomore coxswain. The team is preparing to go to Oklahoma City for the American Athletic Conference champs next weekend.
The Men's JV Four was won by Bucknell, fielding a crew with two walk-ons, all frosh except one. Winning by four seconds, Assistant Coach Francis Stripp says they have been battling within the team all year to build speed and decide line-ups. "I expect these guys to contribute a lot next year; they are a tight group that pushes each other."
The Women's 3V Eight brought the growing Temple support squad to the stands and to their feet at the finish line when the Owls won by a commanding eight seconds over local challenger Drexel. "They showed up today," said Temple assistant coach Madeleine Boudreau. "They have a lot of power and skill…its been there all season, but it's been a fight of consistency," said Assistant Coach Julia Rorer.
St. Joseph's showed that they have a good recruiting class coming on by winning the Men's 3V Eight. 'They are a wild crew," said Assistant Coach Kevin Leslie. "They have a ton of energy and are resilient.
In the Women's JV Eight, Temple continued its dominance of the big boats in the Women's category. '"This is a special crew," said Head Coach Rebecca Grzybowski; "fun is the word," she concluded, when observing their celebration.
"I've been calling the top boats the V-18 because really we've been trying different line-ups." She notes that switching between those top 18 athletes over the past few weeks has made them faster, and everyone has bought in to the process. "No one is griping about shifts, I always say we can control what we can control and that's an attitude that the team supports. They've been just taking care of business on the water, every athlete always trying to be faster in 'that seat' and in 'that boat.'" Worth noting that this was Grzybowski's first varsity Dad Vail Gold medal, so congrats to her for leading Temple back into leadership on the women's side.
The Men's JV Eight was won by the Drexel Dragons, no stranger to the podium in this or any sweep category. Said Paul Savell about this crew, "They have big hearts. Culture-wide, we talked about since day 1, how are we going to multiply the good times and help others in the bad times," he explains. "This whole boat has just erupted with speed with hard work." The crew unofficially dedicated the win to their stroke Dario Vracevic, a senior who had not won a Dad Vail gold yet. At the end of the awards ceremony, both the coxswain and Vracevic went in the water to celebrate.
The Men's Quad was won by the swift scullers from Mercyhurst, two of whom had already won the Men's Double and then hot-seated into the quad. Lightweights Nick Hannan and Will Fistick won the double by six seconds just over an hour prior, then lined up with teammates to have an 8-second win over Washington College in the Quad. "They really just jumped at the opportunity to race as much as possible," said Assistant Coach Cian Noone. The athletes row sweep and scull, often in small boats in the fall, but have moved into the quad in the past month. Like many northern schools, Mercyhurst is at the "mercy" of a cold and rough body of water in Lake Erie.
The Lightweight Four from Florida won their first-ever Vails medal, a gold over Georgetown, out of Lane 5, having not handled in the chop well in the heats. "In the 25 years we have come here on and off, we have never won a medal," said Tippen. "We are very excited; it's a huge honor to get a Dad Vail medal to take home."
Florida's socks game was as strong as their rowing
The Men's Lightweight Four again featured the crew from Mercyhurst coached by Adrian Spracklen. 'The LW four is a priority boat," he says, and "most have sculling background. The athletes work in sculling and sweep throughout the year, and move into their boats as we get on the water at the end of March," says Spracklen. For those of you keeping track, Mercyhurst won every men's event they entered.
The Florida Institute of Technology came with just the women's crews this year, but they showed up ready to race and with a posse of FIT administrators and media support. They won the DII and III Women's Eight by 3 seconds over the squad from UC San Diego. "This is great for them," said coach Adam Thorstad. "We've had injuries throughout the year; we had a senior who had a car accident, we have a novice in the boat, our coxswain is a walk-on who just joined in January," he explained. It was clearly a big success for the program. "We've had like 6 different line-ups this spring;" clearly they found one that worked.
The Varsity Heavyweight Four was won by a lightweight crew aiming to get some high-level race experience coming into championship racing season by racing in open events. Boston University Lightweight Rowing came with a 2V Four, a 2X, and a varsity Eight, and they all won. Head coach Malcolm Doldron says they are preparing for IRAs. "We've had an extended selection process because we have 21 freshmen. We have four eights every day at practice, and it's taken us a lot of time to figure out line-ups." Says Doldron, "We are competitive with ourselves…no one is stopping us from going faster."
The Men's Varsity Four was won by Oklahoma City University over Vermont and Lafayette close behind. "We trailered all the way out here," said Coach Hadzo Habibovic. "Having the National Development teams here helps raise the performance standards."
Mercyhurst rolled into its last race of the day with similar confidence and talent, winning the Men's Lightweight Eight by three seconds over Temple and Delaware. "The formula? I think the chemistry and culture," said Head Coach Adrian Spracklen. "There's a good mix of experiences, and they are willing to work. I tailor training to the strengths of the crews."
One of five winning Mercyhurst crews
The surprise visitor to the podium may have been the Vassar DIII Eight, coached by Peter Wells, previously of Williams College. Wells said the previous Vassar coach left in August of 2018 so they started the school year without a coach and needed some help. "They needed some help and I was available, and I'm interim coach now," Well said. "Really who deserves the credit is this crew; they have a hike from the boathouse to the water, carry all the launches down and back, and then they have to deal with the Hudson, which is a difficult body of water."
Florida Tech came back down the course a second time to win the Women's DII Varsity Heavyweight Eight. The school is known to attract a lot of International students. "We have great weather, great education," says Head Coach Adam Thorstad. "We have a walk-on from Hungary in this crew." He shares. "We haven't lost to any DII programs, and now we are in full prep for NCAAs."
Boston University's Women's Lightweight Eight, despite their size, rowed with a precision that won the Heavyweight Eight Final for the second consecutive year, followed by Drexel four seconds back. The crew used the racing to prepare for IRAs in two weeks. "This is a fantastic race; it's a highly-charged environment, there is not a better place to hear the roar of the crowd," says head coach Malcolm Doldron. His senior stern pair have led them through this season, and hopefully into the fast racing at IRAs against the likes of Stanford, Princeton, and Wisconsin.
BU women cox todd
Colgate coach Khaled Sanad was across the river unable to see the finish of his Men's Varsity Eight race to conclude the Dad Vails Regatta. What Sanad saw was Drexel's massive high-rate sprint getting their bow ball within feet of Colgate's, and many couldn't tell who was ahead, from any perspective. Assistant Coach Anthony Chacon was on the award dock with the crew taking pictures and still calling Sanad, who was unaware his crew had won.
When Sanad arrived, breathing heavy from his own sprint, there were cheers from excited supporters, the team, and coaches; Colgate has never won the Dad Vails. Sanad says he knew this crew was fast since Kerr Cup, when they were second to Yale, "but we never really know how fast we are. Our body of water is only 1400 meters, so we really just know how fast we are for 1000 meters," he says. "This is our whole team - the four that won, and this eight," he adds. Interesting fact that this crew is 176 pounds average. On the award dock they looked less than intimidating, but were when they needed to be most - on the water.
Colgate cox toss
At the day's close, Temple reclaimed a lofty spot in Dad Vail history, this time on the shoulders of the women's team. Temple Owls won the overall points trophy, as well as the women's points award. Drexel, who has been the points winner for years, kept the Men's overall points trophy.
Temple women at full strength