Saturday of the Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta 2015 was a pleasant contrast to the previous year, where high water followed by a storm of biblical proportions made racing a game of survival. At this 2015 iteration, come finals day the tame cloudy morning and calm water set up for some shake-ups in the top-3 boats across the line during the day, but consistency in the overall winner. Not to be a spoiler, but again Drexel figured out how to dominate the Dad's, and won both the overall points trophy and the men's points trophy, making 2015 a Drexel three-peat year for overall points.
For regulars on the Dad Vails awards dock, it was great to see the full-tilt coverage by Channel 6, but unfortunate to see the back of the cameraman for most of the day on awards dock shots… even more frustrating to hear the non-rowing-savvy questions of the reporter. Alas, with growth comes change.
After the corporate races during what amounts to a lunch break and parent grilling fest, the small boats started the afternoon finals schedule. But first, note that the race sponsors Aberdeen came not only with banners, floating signage, a posh lunch tent, and abundant volunteers with delightful accents, but a Novice Corporate Challenge winning-crew also. Maybe they didn't get a ticket back to the UK unless they won that one, but nice to see such all-in participation by a race sponsor.
In the Men's single, Michael Clougher, the sole representative from Connecticut College, won by open water. His fourth-place finish last year was a motivator. "I started a more sophisticated, intense training program," says Clougher, who adds he is really focusing on finals of his senior year right now. Connecticut College is a small program, and he trains with the Novice 4+ under Coach Rick Ricci. He adds that he has also benefitted from the tutelage of Justin Price from UCLA.
In the Women's Single, Oklahoma City's Mathews powered out a 7-second victory over local Villanova rower Lauren Woodhull, making the Wildcat rower a two-time silver winner on the day. Woodhull also stroked the Villanova lightweight 8 that was later stunned by the MIT lights.
In the Frosh/Novice fours, University of North Carolina looked like pros crossing the line. "Don't quote me, but I think this is the first time we won anything here (at Dad Vails)" said Coach Anthony Brock of the Tar Heels. The team, which didn't even come to race last year because it conflicted with ACC championships, is restructured to aim for the best outcome at ACC's in a week and a half. The Fours are worth more points than the 3V8, so Coach Brock put three recruits and one complete novice in a four and watched them work. He told them to "attack the race course," and they took that instruction to heart.
The frosh/novice lightweight eights are a starting point for Adrian Spracklen's Mercyhurst Lakers rowers. "We try to create a place where lightweights can go outside the Ivies to race," says Spracklin. "And the Vails are such a special place to row." His frosh eight won their race by 30 seconds, yes that much—demonstrating the attentive on-boarding of athletes in Erie by Spracklen.
One of the more emotional wins of the day was the Temple Women's Frosh/Novice Eight. After the Owls rowing program was cut and then re-instated in 2014, this win with athletes who were brand-new to the program in August of 2014 was particularly dramatic. Their new Coach Alyssa O'Donnell had "90% walk-on's" in the boat— and all the young women were jubilant on Saturday. They had a coxie from Archbishop Carroll and a Holy Spirit rower in three-seat, but overall a crew of women new to the sport. "They are competitors," says O'Donnell. "They just want to go, racing fuels them."
Jr. Varsity Eights
UMass commenced gathering wins toward their overall women's points-trophy (shared with Bucknell women) with a win in the JV by 6 seconds. Jim Deitz's Minutemen, correction, Minutewomen had a convincing finish, separating convincingly from the other boats. Said 5-seat Hadley Irwin, "the coxswain yelled during the race, 'they don't call us Minutewomen for nothing!'" In this case it was a game of seconds, but it was a good start on racing for UMASS. "We rowed at a 36 for the middle of the race," said Irwin, "and we did a 10 for everyone in the boat."
The Men's JV Eight came down to a local match, with Temple and Drexel powering down the island toward the finish line. Both teams cranked up their rate, and from the awards dock perspective, it looked like Temple had an edge going into the last 250. With cowbells clanging and parents shouting from the stands, the rates went up… and up. Every Drexel rower not in a boat during the event was leaning over the grandstand railing pouring their energy into the folks on the water.
Tori Kenion, coxswain for the JV crew, instructed the athletes to "take what's yours" and with a surge of five strokes atn the finish, they propelled their bow in front of Temple by 1/10th of a second. "We were at 41 and ½ at the finish," Kenion said. "We built from the island, I told them to go for it, and they did." Kenion was a coxswain for Community Rowing in Boston before taking the seat in the stern of Drexel boats.
Coach Paul Savell, who earlier won the Matthew Leadwith Coaches Award, says at Drexel they "have a culture of support for the team and each other—athletes, alums, parents—they are always giving of themselves, everyone, and not just funds, but time and energy."
This was evidenced by the contingent of Drexel athletes that filled the stands throughout the day. They were vocal and cheered every effort, not just wins--but anyone crossing the line. As for the JV win, Savell says, "That was just a battle, they really wanted it. With 1/10 of a second separating the crews… that is a race that all 18 athletes (in Temple and Drexel boats) will never forget."
Light Men's Four
In the Lightweight Men's 4+, Temple won by almost three seconds over Fordham and Michigan. In a move that was probably against Dad Vail protocol (but happened last year as well), teammates threw the athletes cans of beer on the awards dock (these are lightweights now). The crew proceeded to clash oars with Humboldt State women as they pulled away. Drinking and driving never good for lightweights and coxies.
One of the best races of the day was the Women's Open Four. At the end of the island, there were four boats in striking distance, so it came down to the sprint. UMass, coming off a disappointing second to Rhode Island in their conference championship, was not going to have that happen again. They pulled ahead to win the team's second gold on the day, with the following three boats separated by less than 2.5 seconds.
Coach Andrea Morand says that they boat is filled with the powerhouses of the team—some of the best erg athletes sit in that four. She told them to "trust their training." They are aggressive and fast, she says, which may help them as they prepare for the NCAA champs in a couple weeks. "We have to find a new gear," she says, as there is a different level of talent at the National Championship regatta.
Brock, a Canadian crew out of their competitive season, edged out Drexel in the Men's Heavyweight 4+ by split seconds. Brock and Canadian athletes train for fall collegiate season, and race prep for this regatta was tough. "It was a great race," Brock coach Peter Somerweil said. "We knew that we had to build-up for this race, as we are off-season, but this is early on for us."
For these athletes from the Great White North, it was difficult to "simulate racing" so early on without other crews on the water. "Some of our athletes are at U23's tryouts in British Columbia right now. There are high expectations at Dad Vails, and we have had tough weather this season." Somerweil said that this crew is primarily coached by Brandon Campbell.
After a protest, the Men's Frosh/Novice medals were distributed. Apparently there was contact between Purdue and Western Ontario in lanes one and two. In the end, Drexel got the gold, followed by Delaware and Purdue. More points for the Dragons.
The Women's Lightweight Eight was won by a poised MIT crew who had lost to Villanova previously this spring. "We knew it was going to be a very challenging race but they have been in big races before," says Coach Clair Martin-Doyle. "We haven't had a great season so far, it took a while to get things together."
Martin-Doyle said the weather in Boston this spring has been a challenge, but the crew had been building despite that. "I knew we were going faster, but you never know how until a race. We had a pretty simple race plan, but they did race at a higher rate than normal, they just had to hold onto it." Villanova, stroked by the silver-medal winning single sculler Woodhull, was sullen on the dock after being out paced. Coach Jack St. Clair gave a quick pep talk on the awards dock, but the race was a fresh memory.
The Men's Lightweight Eight was an exciting victory by University of Delaware over two strong lightweight programs in Mercyhurst and MIT. As the exclamation "great day to be a Blue Hen!" was shouted from the stands, the men's lightweights for Delaware landed at the dock to be interviewed by Channel 6 News. It is not often rowers get this opportunity, and they were clearly enjoying it.
Barry University, an NCAA Div II team from Miami, FL, was the class of that Division at the 2015 Dad Vails. Coached by Boban Rankovic, the team is really gunning for the NCAA Champs in two weeks. "Our goal is to qualify a four and an eight, and the Dad Vails are a big part of the selection process," says Rankovic.
In the four, the young women in red won by almost three seconds over Merrimack and Humboldt State. In the Eight, they won again by just over two seconds. "In our Division, the whole country is racing here at Vails," he added. "This week was finals; it was very stressful leading into this race. Now they are excited they can just focus on training and racing."
Note that Barry University is vying with traditional powerhouses in that division with Nova Southeastern and Western Washington at the top in recent years. According to their coach, the girls have a lot of potential. "But it is up to them—that was the attitude of the winter practices… 'What do you want to do with this training?' Two golds are nice, though," he concludes.
The build-up to the Varsity Eights is evident at the Schuylkill River course more than most. The stands overflow, the shore is packed with bikes, dogs, parents, coaches and team mates. Drexel had contenders in both the men's and women's events, so the yellow t-shirts identifying a Dragon filled the stands and were constantly panned-over by the cameraman for the Channel 6 coverage. The weather had been nice and conditions favorable… this was going to be a burner in both categories. Time to race.
Most of the athletes at Dad Vails were either coming off or heading into finals—it is a stressful time for college athletes. The game is to figure out how to handle that, and be fast for 2000 meters after pulling all-nighters. The UMASS Minutemen (or women, as noted above) featured one local rower who was the media darling Saturday—Nicole Destefano from Conestoga in Berwyn, PA, who has won at Stotesbury in her high school days. It looks like the sculling they do with the Pioneers crew paid off—the UMASS women raced well and won by almost four seconds over Bucknell and Drexel. It was the first of two bronzes in the Varsity Eight category for Drexel, and the third gold for UMASS, who won the 2V, Four and Varsity events.
"We did a 10 for 'nobody beats us,'" said 6-seat Marika Copp, a senior Captain. "This is a great graduation gift."
As the winning crew paddled off the dock, 8-seat played coxswain and the recently-tossed coxswain sat holding the oar in stroke seat while bow four paddled away. UMASS has made three appearances at NCAA's recently, and this race is prep for more of the same for a program that is really gaining ground under Coach Jim Dietz. Time to get back to work for upcoming Nationals.
As the day concluded, the Men's Varsity raced queued-up at the start above Strawberry Mansion Bridge. Florida Institute of Technology has had a good season—beating Columbia at the Governor's Cup earlier in the year and winning SIRAs (Southern Intercollgiate Rowing Association regatta) by open water. Drexel and Michigan have been perennial winners at Dad Vails, however, and have established winning coaches in Paul Savell and Gregg Hartsuff.
But FIT Coach Jim Granger came to Philadelphia with a boat full of motivated athletes from a school that has not seen a Dad Vail win since 1988 when Coach Bill Jurgens (a yellow-blazer-wearing Dad Vail committee member and current Florida Tech Athletic Director) was at the helm. The team also had a win in 1982, but it had been a long time. "I am so happy as AD to be part of this win!" gushed Jurgens on the awards dock. Worth noting how the entire school was behind those men—the Florida Tech President was in Philly also to see the Panthers win on the Schuylkill.
7-seat Ern Zarskis said, "We knew Michigan and Drexel would be very close to us, but we kept with Coach's plan."
Jose Gomez-Feria, stroke, said the plan was to bring it up higher. They were at 39 for the base of the race, but brought it up to a swift 45/46 to finish. "It was a higher rating than normal, but we have been working on that," added Zarskis.
"The overall philosophy/goal of the season has been to be better after the first 500—to finish the race strong—we have had some races where we had too much ground to make up in the last 1000," says Granger. "SIRA regatta was a measuring stick, and we won by almost 8 seconds."
Granger said they went back to Melbourne (FL—FIT home) and worked hard as the students were in finals. At Dad Vails, they finished the race. The power at a high rating pushed them past Michigan by just a half a second and Drexel by a full boat length--both knew they were beaten by a really good crew.
Drexel Closes the Show with Points Trophy Win
As the tents were coming down on the shore of the Schuylkill, the Dad Vail Committee awarded Drexel their overall points trophy. In the spirit of the Drexel Dragons, the varsity eight brought the team trophy to the stands, to be enjoyed by everyone who contributed. "I feel like everyone performed at a high level," said Head Women's Coach Denise Ferrero, "but we are going to keep trying to get better." Words to live by for any athletic team. Congrats to the Drexel Dragons on still another trip to the medals stand, and for closing down the Dad Vails in style for us one more time.