It's been a weekend filled with historical finishes at the NCAA regatta, and when it came time for the Division II races that would determine the national champions, history was made again as Barry University captured their first ever NCAA championship win.
After a dominating season, the Bucs showed up at the NCAA with the top seed, ready to capture the national title, but they were faced with serious competition – especially from Mercyhurst who pushed them in both grand finals in an attempt to make some history of their own. In the end, though Barry prevailed, Mercyhurst celebrated their runner-up finish, a feat they have not accomplished since 2009.
In the first final – the varsity four – Barry lined up against Mercyhurst and Central Oklahoma. The Barry and Mercyhurst crews raced down the course bowball-to-bowball with Mercyhurst leading for the first half of the race. As the approached the finish line, Barry began to pull ahead, and the coxswain calls began to get a little blurry, as coxswain Angela Dasch began to fill with emotion.
"The last 200 meters was just crying while I was yelling. Once we took a seat, I said, 'This last part is yours, you go win a national title – you deserve it.' Once I said that it was just done."
Barry flew by their competition in the last 500, finishing with a time of 7:49.155 ahead of Mercyhurst's 07:52.117 and Central Oklahoma's finish time of 08:11.362.
"They said it was the hardest and the best race of the year and that's what you want to hear," said Barry head coach Boban Rankovic.
The crew was ecstatic, as was Rankovic, but there was still another race to come down the course – the race that would determine if the team would capture the first NCAA rowing championship for their school.
Mercyhurst, Humboldt State, and Central Oklahoma joined the Barry V8 in the grand final, all the crews had raced just a few weeks ago at Dad Vails, with the Bucs coming out on top. Barry had a commanding start and led the race at 500 meters down, with Mercyhurst following closely. Barry continued to pull away as their teammates watched with bated breath from the shore – knowing that if their teammates cinched the win, they would be all crowned with their first national title.
"Seeing them take it from the start, right from the 500 when they started moving, we knew they would win," said Dasch.
The crew crossed the finish line with a time of 7:11.548, ahead of Mercyhurst (07:19.702), Humboldt State (07:25.138) and Central Oklahoma (07:40.372), but they didn't yet know how their teammates in the four had fared. As the crew rowed back to land, they yelled out to their teammates, and when they learned the result they cheered excitedly. Coach Rankovic hopped off his bike and ran toward his team for a celebratory group hug.
Three seat of the V8, Ellie Hartman, is a true testament to the walk-on nature of the sport of rowing. The sophomore, who also serves as a team captain, just began rowing last year during her first year at Barry, though she's been a longtime athlete. Winning a national title fulfilled a lifelong goal, despite the fact that she never thought it would be a sport where the water was melted.
"I was a ski racer my whole life, I ski raced back in Colorado. That didn’t go as planned so I decided to move to the beach and warm my toes a little bit. I got into rowing and picked it up fairly quickly. My whole life I wanted a national title in ski racing, but I grew to love the sport of rowing – I've wanted this from day one," she said.
"It feels amazing; I have no words. We've been the runner-up twice, in 2006 and 2013 and now…we've got no words. They earned every stroke of it, every little glory they're going to get here. I'm speechless," said Rankovic.
Rankovic and his team may have been at a loss of words for their excitement over their win, but they weren’t at a loss of sound as they cheered loudly, celebrating on the podium and posing for the crowd.
The DII season is wrapped up and in the books – rowers will head home for the summer, and whether or not they'll be rowing before next fall, they'll have Natoma on their minds. Congratulations to all the DII programs who competed this year!