A big sprint no one had seen and a bevy of repeat performances; you could almost say that the winners at the 2008 IRAs were hiding in plain sight. The Wisconsin V8 made good on the potential it displayed early in the year, rowing away from Washington with 500m to go to claim their first national title in 18 years, Washington repeated as Ten Eyck points trophy winners, while the Cornell Light Men claimed their third title in a row and Wisconsin's Light Women claimed their fourth title in the past five years.
On to Wisconsin: coming off a big spring, an open-water Sprints win and a flawless performance through the IRA, the Badgers kept their poise as Washington and Cal ratcheted up the pressure on either side of them early in the Grand, shifted gears to draw level with Washington in the third 500, then threw down what a monstrous sprint in the last 500 to finish it off, almost 8 seats up on the Huskies, and a stunning 7 seconds and change ahead of bronze medalists Cal.
"That was their first sprint of the year," said coach Chris Clark. "I knew they'd have to go, but I didn't know they'd have to do it from behind. They're the fastest top speed boat I've ever had."
The tale of the tape on this crew; they average 187 lbs, the crew features 5 walk-ons, and only 2 seniors ("but they're really good," said Clark).
Uncharacteristically, at least for most US crews, Wisconsin will not head to Henley. "Nope. We've won the national championship, what more do you want?" said Clark.
"We're proud of all the guys, they rowed to win," said UW's Mike Callahan of his V8. "Wisconsin was able to have another move that we weren't able to match, but that's racing. Hats off to Wisconsin, they're a good moving boat."
For Callahan, newly-minted UW Men's Head Coach, silver in the V8 may have been a few seats short of his desired goal, but with national titles in the JV, V4 and F4, and silver in the V8 and F8, the Huskies still rule the roost in Men's rowing; the Huskies captured the first back-to-back Ten Eyck trophy win in the program's history.
"I think everyone feels very good about our efforts," said Callahan. "In any new job, you have to think about things more than you normally do, but the guys really trusted me, and next year we just have to be about a second and a half faster!"
Incidentally, the UW crews also showed the widest variability in equipment: the JV claimed gold today in a Pocock, rowing with C2s, while the V8 rowed an Empacher with Crokers. Whatever works!
The petite final of the V8 would have made a pretty good Sprints Grand, yeesh: it was Cornell over Brown, Yale, Princeton, Harvard and Navy.
As high-octane as the Men's V8 was, the Lightweight finals didn't lack for drama. Princeton, eager to upgrade their Sprints silver, pushed the envelope in this one, leading Cornell and the field for 1600 meters before the Big Red pushed through, drawing Navy and Yale through the sagging Tigers.
"By no means were we in control of that race," said Cornell's Todd Kennett afterwards. "Princeton and all the crews were going, and I thought they had with about 500 to go, I didn't know if we could come back. We knew it was going to be late in the race, but with 400 to go they just poured it on, and I said 'wow, there you go!'"
That makes three straight for Cornell, a pretty heavy-duty feat in another year that saw no undefeated lightweight crews during the regular season.
"Actually, the year before the first year we won we were second, and those guys set these guys up, it's been a nice progression," said Kennett, reflecting on his run. "There are two guys that have been there for all of the championships, they started out as sophomores, but they're more important now as seniors, but everyone in that boat played on equal role."
"We don't really worry about our competition so much," continued Kennett. "We're looking to better ourselves, we do a lot of work on our own to make the boat go as fast as we can. It sounds goofy, but it's more about how we perform, we let that guide us."
So, when does the work on the Four-peat commence? "Well, this group is going to Henley, so you might as well say we're started," said Kennett. "I wish I could take about two years off right now!"
The Wisco women regained their customary top spot in the middle of the podium after a one-year absence, though by all accounts this title was harder-won than most; after losing stroke Margot Schoellkopf to a bike accident the week before the Sprints, Wisco reshuffled seatings, then swept the regatta. When Schoellkopf was only cleared to row on the friday before the crew's departure for IRA, the decision was made to keep the Sprints-winning crew intact, with gold medal results.
Asked about keeping his team grounded during what has been a pretty solid run, Miller said, "this year, we only had one kid in the boat that was in the boat the last time they won. We just had a lot of kids working hard to bring themselves to the level they saw in the program before they got here. It's just a good feeling around the boathouse."
Following Wisconsin to the awards float were Georgetown (silver) and Stanford (bronze); '07 national champs and past champions Princeton and Radcliffe were all denied, perhaps a sign of growing depth in the lightweight women's ranks.
In perhaps the most clear-cut final, Washington outrowed Cal and Sprints champs Wisconsin for the national title in the Men's JV, defending their '07 title.
"We'd lost to Harvard in San Diego, and they really had to find themselves midway," said UW's Callahan. "There's a lot of leadership, a lot of those guys had won last year, they took ownership of the situation and got the job done."
The only real "reversal" for Washington might have been their defeat by Cal in the Frosh Eight. After a two-length win over Cal at Pac-10s three weeks ago, Washington seemed almost programmed to win here, but some retooling and perhaps a little soul massage seemed to get the Bears of Cal revved at the right time; in a 24-hour span, Cal defeated Washington twice, once in the semi, then again in the final, sprinting through UW to match their 2007 title in the event.
"What happened here today was more a manifestation of the season that we've had," said Cal frosh coach Geoff Bond. "It's been the longest slog of injuries, illness, general bad behavior and funky squad dynamic that I've seen. The major challenge has been to stay calm, cool and collected, and that was the game we had to play."
Between Pac-10s and IRAs, the crew changed significantly, and Bond told them they had, essentially, three weeks to get it right. "The bow of the boat has the greek word for discipline and skillful execution on one side, and the word for joy, fire and enthusiasm on the other. I told them, if we were going to do this, we would have to put those two together in a way we never had before. They did a stunning job."
On to the small boats; with the fours events slated for shrinkage at upcoming IRA regattas, this years championship nonetheless produced its share of exciting racing in the four-oared events. In the Varsity 4-, it was a veritable lightweight party as 5 of 6 crews in the final consisted of lightweight rowers (fittingly it seems, as the 4- is the Olympic lightweight event). The Yale lights, who put two boats in this final, took it easily ahead of Navy and Harvard.
"I think they're pretty excited to do a small boat," said Yale's Andy Card. "They're gamers, they like to race, and I think it was something they looked forward to in a positive way. They raced each other in practice every day, and we only ran aground once!"
Yale had never won this event before today; with the event off the program in future regattas, this would seem to mean that this trophy will stay on the banks of the Housatonic for good.
Washington added the Varsity Four trophy to its haul on the day, surviving a sprint from Marist to bring this one home; fittingly, Washington's Ben Fletcher, coach of the crew, won this event himself in 2003.
"I won this event in the two seat, but it feels nice to be on the other side!" said Fletcher. "I give a lot of credit to Mike Callahan, for giving me the opportunity to be here."
Clearly keeping his emotional priorities in order whilst congratulating his crew and collecting the trophy for the event, Fletcher clambered up the bank and presented his coaches' medal to his mom in front of the grandstand. "It was something I wished I'd done as an athlete, so now it was nice to do it as a coach."
Marist's second place finish in this event marked the highest IRA finish ever for that squad, good stuff.
Making the most of a deep squad, Harvard claimed both Gold and Bronze in the Open Fours event, sandwiching a Cornell crew. Harvard's depth this year was real; with the 3V racing in the 2V event, the 2F having won Sprints, and the 4V having taken SECOND at Sprints in the 3V event, Harvard assistant coach Wayne Berger had the luxury of choice for his crews; two medals are not a bad result.
"We didn't have a lot of time to gel things together, but they did a really nice job," said Berger. "We put one of the faster guys on the erg in stroke of one of the boats, and that actually made both boats go faster. I wish I could say it was genius, but it was serendipity more than anything!"
Incidentally, in the "prodigy progeny" department, two sons of rowing legends medaled in the event for Harvard today: Christian Wood, son of Tiff Wood, claimed a gold, while Henry Cashin, son of Dick Cashin, took a bronze.
Washington claimed their first title of the day in the frosh fours. A trip to Camden seemed a fitting reward for members of a UW 2F that had done great work throughout the season, and a 5-second win and a gold medal seemed like a fitting end to that trip.
"We had a great freshman class this year, we had a lot of guys that were doing really well, so we decided to take a freshman four that we thought would compete," said Washington frosh asst. coach Conor Bullis.
The Huskies will need to wait on the trophy in this event, however; Cal, the previous winners, neglected to bring the trophy to the regatta.
In the first medal final of the day, Cornell took the Varsity Pair for what seemed like the n-th time; Cornell has actually won this event 5 times since 2000, so you could say they're fairly dynastic. Part of this could be the coaching; winning Cornell asst. coach Sean Healey won this event himself in 2002, so probably had a few words of good advice for his crew today.
"I basically told them to put themselves in a position to win the race, and that's what they did today," said Healey. "We're just fortunate to row the small boats well."
The crew were lightweights, by the way; Greg Fuoco, who sat 4 seat in the JV for sprints, and Matt Rung who sat 6 seat in the 3V.
Three crews were honored this afternoon for their performances the previous day in the Grand of the Women's Lightweight Fours; sans boats and oars, and looking somewhat more civilian, Loyola Marymount claimed gold, Princeton silver, and Fordham bronze.
Quote of the day: as the Masters Eight, a noontime fixture at the IRA, came down the course, one wag pointed out the two septuagenarian MIT crews on the racecourse: "Do you think they seatraced?"
After their finish in the 3rd level final, the Michigan Men's V8 brought it into the awards dock, where each member of the crew donned a bright orange shirt with the word "CLUB" on the back, locked arms and stood silently facing the Cooper for a good few minutes; with looming IRA rules changes excluding non-Varsity and Club rowing programs down the road, Michigan, which won the inaugural ACRA championships earlier this year, would be one of the crews affected by this change.
So concludes our coverage of the IRA National Championship regatta; if you have enjoyed this coverage, please help us keep it coming by supporting row2k!