A new NCAA DI champ was crowned today as Stanford took the Women's V8 and the team title today; it was not easy going, as Virginia put on a nuts push over the second 1000m to nearly take this one - it was 3/10s at the line, and both crews were under the record time that Cal, who came third, set just yesterday.
This is a hugely significant win for Stanford, as the Cardinal women had never won the national title in the women's V8. In fact, since Stanford elevated women's rowing to a Varsity sport in 1986, their top finish prior to last year had been third place finishes in 2003 and at the old Nationals in 1989.
"At the beginning of the year we sat down, and I asked them, 'do you believe that we can win an NCAA championship as a team?' said Stanford head coach Yaz Farooq. "Everybody said 'yes' and we've been working towards that ever since. Certainly the Varsity eight had to win at the end of the day, and it was great to have [US Olympians] Elle and Lindsey back this year, but the 2V8 and Four all put forth a great effort and that's what I am most proud of. The biggest thing at Stanford is that we don't have that many people. We just realized that every single person on the team is needed. The biggest thing was that we came into this regatta as a team, with everyone knowing their role, and everyone trying to help."
The goal for next year? "We're going to go for another one!"
The Virginia V8 continued their late season surge; just a month after losing to Clemson at the ACC Champs, UVa has been on a tear these past two weeks, winning the South/Central sprints, beating the Stanford V8 in yesterday's semi, and almost getting the Cardinal again today, finishing just under half a second behind in the Grand.
"The ACCs shook us a bit," said UVa coach Kevin Sauer. "Clemson did a fantastic job, kinda woke us up, and it was 'what are we going to do? Are we done, or are we going to do this?' Then, when we started doing well the week of South/Centrals, we told the kids, some crews drop at this regatta, some crews level off, and some soar; let's just soar."
Did Sauer think racing and beating Stanford in the semi might have to his advantage? "We said, if we can just hang with those guys, maybe scare them a little bit, but we didn't expect to win the thing! That may have been a bad thing in some ways, because now Stanford knew we were for real!"
Cal claims second as a team on the strength of a fourth place finish in the four and second in the 2V8, and coach Dave O'Neill was hugely proud of his team after what, by his accounts, was a rougher year than most. "I wouldn't say we were a mess, but this year was hard. Just getting people to come together, buying in, and getting better, this year was hard, but they did. I really think that this was the hardest year, but the team came together in a great way, and we had a great result. Once you win a couple of times, you start to get greedy, but I am going to look back on this years team as a great team, and we're really happy."
On his V8: "We have to be happy with this," said O'Neill. "We weren't planning on having to go sub-6:12 to win the Varsity Eight, but we knew that Stanford would be good, and Virginia, and I told them that this is the fastest team we've ever had."
Yale's two year run in the V8 came to an end with their fourth place finish today, but with an almost unexpected win in the 2V (the first NCAA win for Yale and first national title in about 20 years in this event) and a strong performance in the four, Yale came third as a team, their strongest result in many years. Yale actually scored the same amount of points as Cal, but finishes third in the team standings based on the V8 tiebreaker.
"This matches our best finish ever," said Yale head coach Will Porter. "I think any time you can be one of the top programs in the country like that, it's pretty remarkable. Building a strong program is hard to do, we're working hard and trying to compete, and we're really proud of what our kids have done."
The drama ran deep in the lower races as well, as the V8 petite saw hair-splitting close finishes between Michigan State and Michigan (.04) in the top two spots, and USC and Ohio State (.02) in third and fourth, whew. In this petite, Michigan looked to be well in control until they unfortunately finished the regatta the same way they started it, with an overhead crab that allowed their rivals from Michigan State to just edge ahead.
The Clemson Tigers claimed their first NCAA Rowing title ever with a strong, confident row to win the V4, ahead of Wisconsin and Yale. Clemson third-year coach Rich Ruggieri was absolutely enjoying every minute of it. "This shows how far you can go in just a short amount of time if athletes just work hard and believe in what they're doing and how they do it," said Ruggieri. "We don't really do anything special, we train, no different than anyone else, we work no harder than anyone else, the athletes just have an eagerness to perform well."
In a touching moment, the Clemson V8 was in tears on the shoreline as their V4 rowed by, winning their final; just minutes from launching for their own race, they cheered their teammates on for the full last 200 meters of the race or so, and seemed to feel the victory as if it were their own. "You have to care about one another, you have to go to battle with one another, so emotion is something we encourage," said Ruggieri. "It shows passion, it shows dedication to our school and our team, it's who we are and it's who we're going to be forever."
There are lots of different ways of upping your game for these championships, but one 2V coxswain here has taken it to the next level; she's getting vocal coaching from the same person who works with Steve Tyler of Aerosmith.
Western Washington won "the one for the thumb" today, capturing their fifth DII title in a row. This one wasn't easy, as Nova Southeastern won the DII Fours final to open the morning, leaving team contenders Mercyhurst and WWU to scrap for the all-important second place points behind them. The WWU V4+ nosed out Mercyhurst in the fours and the WWU V8 clinched things with a strong row in their final to put this one into the books.
"We take every year one at a time, and every title is special," said WWU coach John Fuchs. "The four had a gutbuster there, and we knew the eight was going to be close, and Mercyhurst had a great year, and it's going to be fun in the future because we're both not going to lose many people."
Fuchs was philosophical about the importance of the continuing title streak. "We don't even talk about it," Fuchs said. "It's about the athletes, it's their year, it's not about defending anything. They obviously like being up there, showing they've won five, but they didn't have anything to do with the first one!"
Finally, folks don't always come to NCAA's just for medals, that's for sure. The first comment row2k heard when we arrived at the course very early this morning? "There's another banner missing."
We hope you have enjoyed our NCAA coverage, and it has been our pleasure bringing it to you!