Saturday semi's and finals at the 82nd Dad Vail regatta were moved earlier and flipped to race the major events first so to be able to dodge the dodgy weather due on the course late afternoon. With winds exceeding 20 miles an hour and a storm cell rolling in when the Eights traditionally roll down the course, the regatta organizers had everyone set an early alarm so trailers could be loaded before the bad stuff arrived.
Thus the first finals commenced at the unlikely hour (and minute) of 10:47 am. The usual swell of spectators positioned themselves for a good view of the Varsity Eights, traditionally the culmination of a day of points calculations and build-up. The conditions were deceptively calm; light breeze, sun, and course-side grilling on over-drive.
The Men's final was loaded with some of the usual suspects: Virginia, Michigan, Temple, Drexel, FIT and one "somewhat" outlier in Army. Last year, it was a burner between FIT and Michigan, with FIT coming out ahead by half a second for its first win since 1982. In 2016, FIT arrived to defend their title.
This year, said Head Coach Jim Granger, "we wanted to control the race, not row for our lives like we had to last year." To accomplish that, the boat aimed to have a good start and lead by the bridge, a goal they met and capitalized on to win by three seconds over Drexel, followed by Temple in third.
"We executed what I wanted to do," concludes Granger. The crew passed the crowd in the stands looking poised, clean, and in control.
The FIT boat had no seniors within, so watch out for next year, as it is unlikely FIT will rest after back-to-back victories. There are 22 sports at the Melbourne, FL school, and says Athletic Director Bill Jurgens (who also happens to be the former rowing coach), "the rowing team has a rich tradition at FIT and has been prosperous from the get-go."
The UMASS women were led by the 2016 Ledwith Coaches Award-winning Jim Deitz to yet another Women's points trophy on the strength of winning three grand finals. At this 2016 regatta, it all started with the Varsity Eight. The 22-year veteran coach Dietz - who lets the team relish their victory on the dock without his presence - and the Minutewomen have an Atlantic-10 win behind them.
The UMASS Eight was stroked by frosh Daniella DuToit from Zimbabwe, a young talent who will likely see the Vails award dock a few more times. Said stroke Haley Eovine, "after the start and first five strokes, we knew it was ours." Posting a solid five seconds win, it is worth noting that the UMASS team will be heading to Women's Henley (UK) in a few weeks to see if they can extend this winning streak.
Drexel was second on this one, with Delaware getting the bronze.
DIII Women's Varsity
Ithaca College earned both a gold and a silver in the Division III Eights, a result that was "a bonus" for the team who set ambitious goals in the 2015-2016 year.
"There is a story behind this," said head coach Becky Robinson.
Ithaca College won the first women's race at the Dad Vail—in 1976, she explained. Unlike many women's races in that period, the Dad Vail committee was progressive enough to make the race a 2k, although even in the 1984 Olympics women rowed 1k. An Ithaca rowing alumnus from that boat donated her medal to the team at the beginning of this season, and that was the inspiration behind the naming of the new boat, The Spirit of 76, and the genesis of the team goal and motivation for the season: to win the Dad Vails.
The result was not one, but two Ithaca boats in the medals, leaving Marietta to claim the final hardware.
DII Women Last year, Barry University owned this category, and in 2016 they continued the domination, with a smile on their faces—the spirit of this team is definite a product of the coach's philosophy. "We are just trying to have fun and take care of each other—winning is icing on the cake," said Head Coach Boban Rankovic. "It's an amazing group, similar to last year with 5 seniors here." Rankovic is supported on the coaching staff by Lindsay Shoop and Martina Vlatkovic.
Barry University won both the DII Eight and the DII/DIII Four, and head to Indianapolis to defend their NCAA title. "They are hitting each spot as we agreed on—I can't tell you how proud I am," concluded Rankovic.
In the Eight and the Four, Barry was followed by Central Oklahoma and Humboldt State, with winning margins of 6 seconds in the Eight, and 11 seconds in the four.
Mercyhurst returned after being stunned by Delaware last year to reclaim its podium spot in the Men's Lightweight Eights. They did so with both great rowing on the water, and a statement held proudly on the award podium as well as on an oar from the victorious shell: "Don't give up the ship!" (the maritime slogan seems a fitting phrase.)
Mercyhurst has been committed to offering lightweights a competitive environment outside the Ivies, and as such, produces consistently strong crews. The Lakers will now head to the IRA championships June 3rd and 4th.
To conclude their medals ceremony, the LW Eight yelled to the crowd: "Mercy-Mercy-Mercy" with the spectators replying in well-rehearsed unison, "Hurst-Hurst-Hurst". Yep, those Lakers happy to get back on the Vails podium.
Mercyhurst won by a two-plus seconds over Delaware and Purdue.
MIT won the two-boat scuffle for the Women's Lightweight Eight title with a 36-second lead over Geneseo, who was thrilled to be coming to the dock just the same.
The Ithaca Women Bombers returned for another trip to the podium with a six-second win over Purdue in the women's lightweight four, and 13-seconds over MIT who had claimed the Eight category earlier.
Virginia Cavaliers took the Men's light four. Head coach Frank Biller says the boat is all sophomores who had put together a light four for the Charles in the fall, and ended up fourth. "They are really focused and determined," says Biller. "The Dad Vails is a fun regatta—it is special." He added that the kids are in finals and they will be able to concentrate on the ACRAs once they return to Charlottesville.
In the Men's Heavy Four category, Georgia Tech took the win by one second over the Brock (Canada) squad, and Michigan. GT is a team that focuses on the ACRA championships May 28 in Gainesville, GA. Virginia and Michigan are also ACRA teams, but tune up at the Vails. Looks like the four is set, coach.
In the Women's four, the University of Massachusetts took the win by 11 seconds. Says coach Andrea Morand, "We had some tight racing in the heats and semi's." She said the crew came back to the trailer and talked about some improvements after the heats, and figured out in the semi's, more so in the finals.
"We knew Drexel would be fast, but Lafayette was a surprise." There were two seniors in the boat, said Morand, and they knew how they wanted their Dad Vails races to end. "It came down to grit—they had open water at the bridge."
By the time the JV Eights rolled around, Drexel had been amassing points from throwing a few silvers on the board, but they wanted that gold--Drexel embodies Dad Vails with strong legs, passion and a bevy of cow bells—and the JV Eight delivered. It was like the entire throng of Drexel supporters were going to take down the sturdy metal fence that keeps spectators from plunging in the drink. The JV's took the gold from FIT JV's by a second—FIT was closing fast, but Drexel held on. Michigan was back nine more seconds, so it really was a two-boat final. FIT learned to start their sprint a tad earlier, while Drexel got the gold they were waiting for.
"I am just happy to be part of such a selfless team," said Drexel Head Coach Paul Saville. "It's just so fun." In the overall picture, says Saville, "the women are going to their conference championships tomorrow and the guys are getting ready for the IRAs in a couple weeks. We probably won't change too much right now, just work on picking up a bit more speed."
UMass women demonstrated their depth here, and won the JV race by a full 10 seconds. The Minutemen have almost 50 women on their team, and although most are Massachusetts gals, Dietz pulls from all over; testament is the stroke from Zimbabwe, but there are also students from Mexico, Canada, and (not to mention) California on the roster. The depth has certainly given UMass a lot of inter-squad competition to keep them on their toes. Back to Amherst to work on line-ups for the NCAAs.
Freshman Eights and Fours
Drexel grabbed another gold here. With the popularity of both the crew locally and the coaching staff led by Paul Saville, Nick Baker and Denise Ferrero, there are a lot of freshman, including walk-on's, who are ready to row hard for the Dragons in their first collegiate year. With 60 men and 50 women on the team, there is a lot to work with.
The surprise was Army breathing down on the necks of the Dragons. Army, led by Jennie Kiesling, says this is "my 21st year but my best day!" Minutes later, her frosh women won the category. It is especially promising for the team, as a gold and silver was won in the freshman category. "We have been emphasizing the culture of cohesion, pushing each other, respecting each other," she says.
Kiesling is a civilian History instructor at West Point. Her team dominated at the New York State regatta just a week before. She was clearly thrilled with the results of the freshman, as well as the finals berth for her Varsity Men.
Duquesne Women won the Freshman fours by a solid 8 seconds over Virginia Tech. Coached by Jenn Langzettel and Courtney Purslow, they said, almost simultaneously: "We've been hard on them." They explained that they didn't have a great heat or final at Dad Vails, but also in the bigger picture that they have been working hard at home in Pittsburgh. This win was a big reward.
Colgate men won the Men's Frosh fours over Michigan and Georgia Tech. Frosh coach Ian Terrell said they were actually lacking a full strong boat coming into the spring, but had a walk-on just a couple months ago who made the difference. "He literally joined 35 days ago." Hopefully winning a Dad Vail final after those early days on the cold pond near Colgate is motivation to keep at it.
Pairs and Singles
Michigan won the men's pair with what Head Coach Greg Hartsuff says was "the most unlikely pair on the team." Regardless, after a pairs matrix with the team, these two just kept surfacing. Levi Godin and Lyle Antieau emerged, rowed together for about a week, then headed to Vails and earned gold.
The Canadian Women's Pair from Brock benefited from training camp in Georgia and working on technique while on their Canadian off-season. Says coach Vince Amodeo, "we have been working on entry timing, and sometimes doing two-a-days… they have been working really hard."
Colgate junior single sculler Clarke Cady-McCrea has been rowing a single exclusively for about a week and a half, but has been specializing in sculling for a while-having competed at the University Games in a double last summer. He won the Men's single here at Vails by five seconds over the Delaware sculler Cucci. He also sweep-rows big boats during the regular season, but says he "loves the single." The team captain is spending the summer in the books rather than a boat, studying for MCATs. His team will head to the IRAs in a couple weeks.
Queen's College in Canada may not be a familiar name at Dad Vails, but the Women's Single sculler from Kingston, ONT didn't mind being a visitor in Philadelphia. Danielle Abusow says of the race she won by a full 12 seconds that she "was just happy we all made it through the rough water!" As the days progressed, the wind did pick up and one of the more vulnerable boats to chop—the single—concluded the day of collegiate racing before the Corporate Eights lined up at 1000 meters.
Says Abusow, "There was some clearer water by the bridge, so I tried to take advantage of that." She rows bigger boats in the fall for the Canadian Collegiate season, but enjoys the single and gained a lot of confidence rowing in Canada where the conditions are often harsh. As a side note, Abusow was the most cheerful interview of the day, literally smiling through the whole thing, and maybe even stunned to have won. That is the spirit!
The day ended with corporate boats racing 1000 meters in front of the sponsor tents in some rough water. There is hope that the gourmet food and libations made that "challenge" more pleasant and fun.
The weather did indeed turn rainy and windy as the day rolled on, and regattas in PA, MA and NJ were scrambling for decent water and logical start time. Dad Vails may have been awkwardly arranged, but everyone got home safe and dry.
Finally, 37-year Temple University Head Rowing Coach Dr. Gavin White announced that he will retire after the 2015-2016 season. He has been a fixture on the Schuylkill for decades, he says "it is in my blood" (in an interview with Temple) and he is a part of the Schuylkill culture like no other Philadelphia coach. Cheers to Dr. White, enjoy the retirement, thanks for being a part of Philly rowing, the Dad Vails, and the sport for so many great years.
Have one for Gav