Reaching the NCAAs for the defending national champion Bates College women seemed an obvious bet to make at the National Invitational Rowing Championships in Worcester, Friday.
The Bates women have been storming their NESCAC conference - and pretty much every other event they entered this season and last. And they did the same on Lake Quinsigamond, in Worcester, Massachusetts, winning every event they entered, taking a total of five gold medals and the women's points trophy. The regatta served as the Automatic Qualifier for the NCAA Championships in Sarasota, Florida.
It was pretty much expected that Bates would take it.
But the regatta was also the AQ event for the Intercollegiate Rowing Association men's national championship, and while the Bates men have also been hammering wins together this season, the men's V8 seemingly had its hands full, especially with Hobart College. The Statesmen had been having a solid season, racing bigger D1 programs, and defeating Columbia along the way.
But when the men's varsity eights were rowing into the final 500-meters of the Grand Final, Bates was out in front of Hobart, with Marist charging hard from third into second. When the three crews crossed the line, the small college from Lewiston, Maine that has established itself as a women's Division 3 power house, also had a men's team in the national championships. The Bates men had taken the single qualifier to the IRA, and on the shore, surrounding the awards dock, the Bates crowd erupted.
Hobart finished third, but secured the men's overall points trophy and will now have to wait to see if they can gain a bid to the IRA Championship with an at large bid. But Bates will not have to wait for that.
"We're going to Disney Land," one of the dozens of Bates men on the beach screamed as the first varsity boat approached the dock to accept their medals. The win was a dream for the Bates men, one they wished for everyday of the season, but were uneasy having with so many good crews to race, and the fact since the NESCAC voted in 2016 to allow their teams to participate in the IRA, no men's eight had been able to qualify. Until Friday in Worcester.
Bates cox toss
"This is incredible," said senior men's captain Mats Terwiesch. "This is something we've been thinking about every night going to bed, and every morning waking up. All year we felt guilty about just dreaming for this because it was so hard to imagine happening. And now it's a real thing.
"So, thanks to everyone out there who believed in us," he said. "It would not have been possible without them. This is the biggest thing in the world for us."
And it was indeed a team thing. From the looks of the scene, there was not a Bates crew teammate, family member, friend or supporter on hand not on the beach or surrounding the awards dock, including the men's crews that had won earlier in the day, the men's open four and the second varsity eight.
"I think everyone is super excited," said junior Constantine Gregoire. "This is just amazing, and it's really hard to articulate everything, but it's awesome, just really awesome."
It was no less awesome for the women. The Bates women dominated the event, from the four and novice eight right through first, second, and third varsity eights races. They have a few days to soak up the win, and the overall success of the season so far, before traveling to Florida to defend their national championship.
Bates women's varsity eight
"We've been dreaming about this since last year's nationals," said senior Olivia Stockly just after winning a gold medal in the varsity eight. "It means the world. We would have been able to do it without the whole rest of this team. It means more to the whole rest of the team to be able to represent in Sarasota this year, so we are really excited. "This season has been a fun one," she said. "We've been having a lot of really fun races, we got to race a bunch of D1 schools as well which is good friendly competition. It's exciting to see everyone in the NESCAC and everybody in the East and we're excited to see the rest of the country.
"We've got one week till we're there so not a lot of recovery time so we'll soak this up for a couple of days and we'll be there."