For the last three days, from the opening heats of the 2018 IRA Regatta to the Sunday final, every member of the Yale varsity eight was maintaining a 'stay focused, keep the distractions to a minimum, and don't say too much' approach.
Just after winning the semifinal on Saturday, all coxswain Vlad Saigau had to say about the making the final and winning the semi was "we were just dialed into what we had to do, so it will just be automatic in the final."
Being dialed in has been working for Yale all season.
In every race, in every situation, they did the same thing; get off the line quick, set the rhythm, and stick to the race plan. During a meeting Saturday night, with the final only hours away and the work of the season about to be put to the ultimate test, Saigau said they reminded each other that they had already dialed in what they would rely on.
"I think it's pretty easy to overthink the situation; to be on the line and think, this is the IRA finals and freak out," Saigau said. "But we reminded ourselves that it's just another race, and we're going to execute it the same as we have all year. The same as we did in the heat, and the same as the semi. There's nothing different. Psychologically, that's what we did."
And it paid off.
Yale took control of the IRA varsity eight final, pushed themselves into the lead, and held it while the University of Washington and University of California fought to catch them. But Yale stayed ahead and captured their second consecutive national championship, winning the premiere heavyweight men's eight event in 6:01.68. Washington finished second in 6:04.33 and California took third in 6:08.91.
"Honestly, this is pretty surreal," said six-seat senior Cole Tilden. "This is a dream come true. I was in the 3V last year, and coming into this year, and doing this with my classmates and fellow seniors, Sholto (Carnegie) and Paul (Jacquot), it's just a dream come true.
Yale celebrates #2
"It's pretty indescribable. The entire race, we were so dialed in, you understand the situation that you're in, that we are all linked up, and the boat is just gelling. Then you start thinking we're going to win this.
"I had a smile on my face as we closed in, thinking about each of the boys I was in this with. We're all family. It's really special to have done that with this group of men, and this team as a whole. I'm so indescribably happy right now."
The win completed a repeat of last season, when Yale won at Eastern Sprints and then came to the IRA seeded behind Washington. Like last season, Washington seemed poised to topple Yale from the championship, but Yale was not to be denied, and added a consecutive national championship to a fourth-straight Eastern Sprints title.
While Washington finished second, they repeated as the James Ten Eyck Trophy winners for the most team points won during the regatta, with wins in the second and third varsity eights to go with the varsity silver. It was Washington's 11th Ten Eyck Trophy in the last 12 years.
Washington wins the Ten Eyck
"I'm really proud of the whole team," said Washington head coach Mike Callahan. "The entire team was great today, and it was great to win the Ten Eyck again. The team points trophy is actually the focus of the Washington rowing program. I'm excited that the team got this. It's been an awesome effort all year. I feel like we made good improvements all the way through."
Callahan said Washington was aware of Yale's speed off of the start and had hoped to be able to not let them get away early.
"Yale's very good the first three minutes of the race, they attack every minute," he said. "We would have liked to have neutralized that. Most days we have good speed there, and today we didn't. So we were in the chasing game again, similar to last year. It's not a long course, so you'd think we'd have a better chance, but Yale was just better today."
The third-place finish was not what California was looking for either, but coach Mike Teti said he was happy with the medal and the way his final season as the Cal head coach has gone. Teti steps down now and begins the job of coaching the US men's national team, and said he is looking forward to coaching the American athletes that raced in Sunday's final, including some of his own.
"I think it was a good day," Teti said. "Everyone medaled, and I think everyone had a good race. But I think we sealed our fate yesterday (in the varsity) in the semi with the lanes. I think the best crew won."
About coaching his final IRA with Cal, Teti said, "I have mixed emotions."
"These are really good kids, and I had a great time here. For me, it's always been about the people. These past three years have been about the athletes I've coached, they are the finest people I've ever met. It will be sad to not be a part of that, but at the same time, we have another really great opportunity coming."
The varsity eight final is normally the final race of an IRA Regatta. But with weather conditions forcing schedule changes all three days and conditions going from fog, to rain, to wind, the Sunday schedule was flipped to ensure that the forecasted building wind would not derail the grand finals.
It very nearly worked out for the race organizers. All five eights grand finals were run, including the men's and women's lightweight eights
Columbia celebrates win over the lightweight eight field
In the men's lightweight eight, Columbia's men capped off a dominant season and added a national championship to the Sprints varsity eight title and points trophy already in the books for this spring. Columbia struggled some at the start, but regained their composure and held off a significant challenge from Princeton. Columbia won in 6:18.78; Princeton followed for the silver in 6:19.51, and Harvard was third in 6:24.25.
"We definitely didn't have the start that we wanted," said Columbia captain Ben Landis. "We ended up being down on the start, and it was pretty rocky, a lot of waves. I'd say we got it back in our middle thousand. But, yeah, I'm thrilled."
Princeton sophomore Charlie Kwitchoff said his crew was happy with the way the season had gone for his crew, and with the IRA silver medal. "It was really great season, the boat just came together, and it was a real family effort on the part of the boat.
"This is just a great feeling, because we could feel the boat getting better every week," he said. "We knew we would be in the hunt for medals in this race, and we were really proud of the process and that of itself was a reward. To have a result like this is an okay feeling."
Cardinal lead the back for fourth straight IRA title
In women's lightweight eight, Stanford University went to the line defending its 2017 IRA title, but also after having a season where they were challenged in the dual schedule, losing to Boston University on the Charles River early in the year.
"It's been a really tough year," said coach Kate Bertko. "We had some ups and downs, but I've been really impressed with the women on the team, how they responded to the ups and downs, getting a little bit stronger each time. They keep their chins up and they keep going. We saw that today."
For a good part of the morning, it looked as if the schedule change was going to work and that all the scheduled races would be run.
But just as the eights medals and heavyweight team trophies were being awarded and the finals for the heavyweight fours and the rest of the lightweight events were getting ready to launch, the wind had risen to the point that crews were taking on water and having trouble getting to the line.
The remaining races were at first delayed, and then canceled.
IRA Commission Gary Caldwell explained that in meetings with the regatta officials and referees, the decision was made to call the regatta when it became clear the wind was not going to subside.
"After suspending racing due to safety concerns at approximately 9:15 AM, representatives of the LOC, the Chief Referee, the Regatta Director, the Starter and Assistant Starter, and the Fairness Committee, met and went over potential scenarios," Caldwell said.
"Given the present, and future, weather scenarios they agreed unanimously that it would be imprudent and dangerous to resume racing in the time period allotted to the championships. I in turn agreed with their recommendation to cancel the remaining events.
"As we monitored the conditions throughout the rest of the morning, it remained evident that the decision was correct as the sustained winds and gusts continued unabated," he said.
Not to be deterred, the crews that were unable to complete their regatta loaded their boats and equipment onto trailers and head to Lake Carnegie and the Princeton University boathouse. All five of the remaining lightweight events were run.
The men's heavyweight fours were also canceled, but those crews opted out of the moving to the new venue because a team with flights to the West coast could not stay.
We have much more regatta (official and unofficial) regatta coverage to come, stay tuned!