The Eagle Creek venue, known for its rain, wind, and generally stormy conditions, was kind to the rowing this weekend, and through the Sunday finals conditions stuck pretty closely to sunny skies and manageable winds. The NCAA regatta ends with the Division I championships, racing the petite and grand finals as the last of the day, and concluding the event with the DI awards ceremony.
The day ran smoothly with a couple exceptions in the 2V8, as Cal hit some debris during the grand final, and Radcliffe's skeg fell victim to more debris in the water in the petite final. Radcliffe coxswain Greer Rosenbaum managed to get the crew down the course, and though the team initially filed a petition, they eventually withdrew it, as did the Cal crew.
The day the victors are crowned is always a very busy day on shore. The Ohio State campus is only about three hours away from Eagle Creek, and given the school's prospects and goals at this championship, families and fans were very present wearing every piece of Buckeye clothing imaginable including baby onesies. It's always a little bittersweet seeing the families watch their kids in their last collegiate race, parents of seniors have seen one another often many weeks in a row for four years and have begun to identify with the team as their own. They watch the jumbotron, with excitement and worry, and look at one another for reassurance; some prefer to offer loud advice as the boats enter the last 250.
At the NCAA championships all the emotions are heightened—from athletes and their fans--as the stakes are raised, the wins are more glorious, the losses more painful. For some, this is the last chance, for many, there's always next year.
As we mentioned in yesterday's report, Cal, Brown and Stanford were the only three programs to have qualified for the grand finals in all three events, but it was still possible for 2013 champions Ohio State to defend their title if the V4 finished first in the petite final and placed very high in both eights.
Given this possibility, the V4 petite final was a very closely watched race as the tremendous group of Ohio State fans gathered to see if the V4 could help propel their team to the championship. Though the first thousand was close with Wisconsin following less than a second behind at the 500m, Ohio State opened up in the second 1000 and came cruising past the crowds letting their fans know, 'it's still possible.'
"I was just thinking that it's the last race of the season, and we pulled for the seniors in our boat—our stroke and bow—we knew we had to bring it home from them," said Anna Ralph, 2-seat in the Ohio State V4. "We were really confident in our 8s, and we knew that we just had to win our race so they could bring it home. We knew we just had to start off the day by securing that win."
Next down the course was the grand final of the varsity 4, and though Brown took an early lead on the race, Cal stepped it up in the third 500 pushing up to the front of the pack as Stanford and UVA followed. The Cal crew came across the line in 7:43.088 followed by Stanford (7:44.379), Virginia (7:45.948), then Brown, Washington and USC.
"When the four won their heat we thought it may have been the only time they won all year," said Cal coach Dave O'Neill. "Then we realized they had beaten the Notre Dame four, but only by about .2 second early in the season. We knew there was a good four on our team somewhere and this was probably the eighth or ninth version of it."
Given that Cal, who still had their 2V8 and V8 race in the grands, won the event, there was still a chance for them to grab the team trophy. In fact, Stanford and Brown still had a shot as well. Each race was becoming increasingly more important for the points trophy as the racing progressed.
Second Varsity Eight
In a nail-biter of a race, the Princeton 2V8 came off the line smoking fast, leading the first 500 with Stanford, with Ohio State trailing along with the rest of the field. As they approached the halfway point, Ohio State crept up and met them at the 1k, and by the 1500 meter-mark, Ohio State was leading, with Princeton following in second. There was no question: if Ohio State wanted a repeat championship, they had to win this race, and win they did (6:59.434). Princeton (7:02.028) stayed quick resisting the Virginia (7:02.685) crew gunning for the silver, and edged them out by a little over a half-second. Stanford, Cal and Brown followed.
Though they did not have the early lead, Ohio State coxswain Sami Jurofksy knew that the crew was confident in their ability to move during the body of the race.
"I knew that our boat was strong enough to do it, and that all we needed to do is stay strong and confident," she said. "We have seen in our races earlier in the week that all the boats are really strong off the line, and we're strong, but it's not in our start, it's in the middle of the race. Everyone is so willing to push themselves for each other and each move that you call for an individual person the boat just flies—its amazing."
First Varsity Eight
Stroking the Ohio State V8, was Claire-Louise Bode, a four-year team member who was also in last year's 1V that placed 3rd at NCAAs. As a captain and stroke of the 1V, Bode helped lead her team toward their goal of re-capturing the team title, and becoming the first Big-10 school to win the NCAA 1V.
The Ohio State crew came off the line taking the lead early on, and opening up consistently as they raced down the course. This crew had more than the team trophy to win, they had their own race in these moments, as last year's third place finish left them hungry for a gold.
"The first minutes of the race I was feeling so strong, halfway through I realized we were actually going to do it and nothing else mattered," said Bode. "All the pain you feel during racing, all the soreness and lactic acid, it was there, but I didn’t feel it like I do in a regular race, just because that feeling of excitement and enjoyment took me all the way to the end."
"It was a lot more pressure coming into the race," said junior captain Ashley Bauer, "but if we wanted to accomplish our original goal of our boat winning the championship then it was the only option we saw coming into today, no matter what."
The crew crossed the finish line at 6:44.476 followed a length back by Brown (6:48.471), Cal (6:48.509), Washington, Michigan and Stanford. The Buckeye crowds were going nuts, it could have been a championship football game by the way they were cheering—and really, the team was being recognized by their fans, by their school as just as important as any other Big-10 conference champions, a conference that knows how to celebrate a big win.
"Being a national champion at Ohio State is a lot of fun," said head coach Andy Teitelbaum. "We've received tremendous support. We spent quite a few trips to the NCAA in the top 5 so its not as if we've suddenly come out of nowhere, but there's a big difference between winning the national championship and coming close, and Ohio State has definitely recognized that with every bit as much fanfare and excitement as they would have any other sport."
With 22 teams at the championship, the top four are recognized. With 110 points, Stanford came up in fourth place, 116 points brought Brown to third, and the runner up Cal, who took home gold in the V4, came in at 118 points to Ohio State's 126.
For the whole Ohio State team, it was a huge victory, especially given the challenge of not having qualified for the grand final in the V4.
"We understood we didn’t have a large margin for error but we felt confident that we were capable of winning all three of our races today," said Teitelbaum. "So it was just a question of whether we could execute it and race with the emotion that is necessary to hold off the rest of the country. The athletes, like they've done all year, accepted the challenge, understood where we were and what they could do to put us in the best position possible, and they executed exceptionally well."
Teitelbaum credited the senior class as strong leaders that helped bring the team to their goal. "We've won three conference championships in four years and two consecutive national championships. These seniors have been here for four years; that's a pretty impressive resume in any program, not to mention a conference as strong as the Big -10. I think all of our seniors, including Claire-Louise Bode who stroked our boat for the past two years, Taylore Urban who is now a three-time NCAA gold medalists, Katie King is a two-time NCAA gold medalists; these are all seniors who have quite a resume right now and they've earned it. There's a lot of commitment, success and leadership in our group."
There was some really exceptional racing all weekend, and as we mentioned in yesterday's report, some unreal photo finishes. Though many in Indiana were a little confused when we said we had arrived for rowing ("Rowing? In Indiana?"), Hoosier head coach Steve Peterson joked that between IU and Notre Dame, they were going to turn the basketball-heavy state into a rowing one. Well, with Notre Dame finishing 9th overall, and IU at 11th overall, maybe it'll happen one day.
Next year's championships will be moving back to hot and dry Sacramento, CA. See you in 2015, NCAA!