Day two of the San Diego Crew Classic 2015 was full of close margins, kayakers, sunburns, and beer. The regatta continued with most of the grand finals – the venue packed with spectators, the boatyard full of jittery coaches.
There were a number of exhibition races held today – some mixed fours, quads and eights of US and Canadian national team members, racing together before they faceoff in international competition this summer. At the very end of the day was the fun "rowak" race - rowers versus kayakers - crazy fast K-4 kayaks against two quads and a four. There were no official results, but let's just say that the kayaks easily took over the four, and were competitive with the quads. Now let's just hope no newbie rowing parents and friends were left more confused after being told over and over "that's the kayak, not rowing motion."
Jessop-Whitter and Copley Cups
The two invitational cups – the Jessop-Whittier Cup for women and the Copley Cup for men - are two of the most highly anticipated races of the Crew Classic. Yesterday, the crews raced for lanes, and with those results in mind, they lined up today for the chance to start the season with a big win.
In the Jessop-Whittier Cup, the excitement was palpable after Texas beat perennial champions University of Southern California (USC) in the race for lanes yesterday. The Texas program, under the new leadership of coach Dave O'Neill, had shaken up the confident USC women, and after the Longhorn 2V8 had won their final earlier in the morning, the crowds were waiting to see if the Longhorn varsity could pull it off. In the end, USC nipped out Texas by a second and won the Jessop-Whittier Cup for the fifth consecutive year.
"Yesterday we got second to Texas unexpectedly, so today we came in with a changed lineup and were aggressive off the start," said USC junior Lindsay Gibson. "We had to bring back that trophy. We had an expectation to live up to and we did it."
The Copley Cup was captured by the Cal Bears, who took home the cup for the sixth time in seven years. Despite a strong showing from their competition, the Cal crew had open water early and continued to move swiftly toward the line, winning over second place Penn by 10 seconds.
"We just had a good race – we had a solid start and hit our race plan. You can never underestimate your competition so we just kept it internal," said sophomore Justin Murphy. "I believe in the guys in our boat and I believe in our coach."
Perhaps the fields were really just tighter, or it’s the human propensity to procrastinate, but there were some solid sprints through today's racing. Starting off early in the morning, the Long Beach Juniors lightweight men and women's crews both won by tight margins after executing a solid sprint to move through their competition in the last few hundred meters.
The tightest race of the day also came from junior crews in the HS varsity men's event as Oakland Strokes and Marin battled it out for the gold.
"At the thousand we were boat length down," said Marin rower Bake Patterson. "We knew our second thousand is our stronger part of the race so we started to walk back. At 500 meters to go we still had had four seats to gain, so we decided to take up the sprint early because we wanted to take as much on them as we could."
Heading toward the finish line, the two crews were bowball to bowball, neither letting up. The announcer perceived that Oakland had the win, but in the end it was Marin that took home the gold with just a tenth of a second margin.
"We were fortunate enough that the last 500 ended in our favor – it was basically a tie and we were lucky enough to come out on top," added Blake.
High school crews weren’t the only ones to throw down a mean sprint – the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) raced past San Diego with a breathtaking sprint to win by less than a second.
A good coxswain is essential to a good sprint – they are the eyes and ears to find out who is close by, they are the ones who ultimately lead the charge into a well-executed sprint. UCSB coxswain Demitra Good called the sprint, and led her team to a win.
"To be honest I'm not exactly sure what I said!" Good said. "When I saw we were half a length down and knew we had enough time and I told them 'We have enough time, but this is the do or die moment, we have to go now.' They kept responding, we had enough, we had everything we'd worked for."
Ergs don't float
One of the draws of the San Diego Crew Classic is the promise of good weather, and for crews with iced over rivers and lakes all winter, it's a light at the end of the tunnel. In coming to San Diego, many of these crews that have spent the whole winter on ergs are racing against folks who have 365 water rowing days a year – there's always a question about who has the training advantage. In a number of races, crews who had little to no water time before heading to the Crew Classic prevailed over California teams who have had unlimited time on the water.
One of the most notable wins by an iced-in crew was the Saugatuck junior women, who won the women's high school varsity race by open water (another east coast team, PNRA/Mercer Juniors came in second). The Saugatuck crew, who won the youth 8+ at the Head Of The Charles last fall with the same girls, trusted their winter training to take them to a gold.
"We've only been on the water for a week – we've had a total of ten practices on the water and only two in this lineup," said senior Genevieve Esse. "We came out here without much comfort for our start and sprint since we hadn’t practiced them much, but we knew we had a solid middle 1000.
"We came in knowing we'd be last off the line – we didn’t want to be scared by that. Despite being last off the start, we kept our cool and kept walking; we passed Mercer and that was a confidence boost, then we walked through Marin. We had an amazing last 1000 meters. We expected to win, but we didn’t realize we had it in us to win by open water."
As mentioned in yesterday's report, masters rolodex crews are all the rage at the Crew Classic (Though there are some true clubs that compete to win in the masters events, like Sammamish Rowing Association who threw down a great race to beat many rolodex crews in the men's masters B event.) and many of these crews come together year after year to spend a weekend together in the sun, drinking beers, eating tacos…and maybe doing a little racing.
One such crews is led by Leonard Velez, and today, after 15 years of coming in second and third at the Crew Classic, Velez coxed his San Diego Alumni crew to a gold in the men's masters D event.
Excited doesn't quite describe his reaction to the win, ecstatic doesn’t even begin cover it – Velez was out of his mind pumped to finally be on the podium.
"We've been getting organized since January – land workouts since we're all in different places," said Velez. I cut about 11 lbs to be at the minimum coxswain weight.
"Right at 1500 I said, 'We could win this!' It was a really incredible feeling and I don’t think these guys realized what we were about to do. At 500 left I was making calls for family members, wives names, times we got up early, erg scores, the sacrifices we made. At that point, it was just about jamming the legs down and getting across."
Another former bridesmaid at the Crew Classic are the Union Boat Club masters A, who have raced the event many times, but haven't won in recent memory – until today. For Tom Owston, who has been racing with Union for many years, this win won't be soon forgotten.
"It's extra special because it's my 29th birthday today on the 29th. My golden birthday and I got a gold," he said.
There's something satisfying about having the first big race of the season in the books – for some it was victorious, and for others disappointing – but regardless of results no one is about to rest on their laurels. Those first 2ks of the season are a benchmark, a way to set up the rest of the season. Back to training – onto the next race!