As the D1 Varsity eights were getting lined up, everyone at Lake Natoma was well aware that California had just won the Varsity Four (with the best sprint of the regatta) as well as the Second Varsity Eight (with a wire-to-wire performance that came under considerable pressure from Ohio State in the closing strokes – and they were aware how strong Cal had looked all regatta. Even the announcer could be excused for getting a hair ahead of things to mention that "no team has ever won all three events at the NCAA" while wondering Cal could do it.
But Ohio State had been watching closely and adjusting slightly with each race throughout the regatta, and after lingering in the back of the pack in the early going, as they are wont to do, reaching 500 gone in fifth place, by the 1000 they were pushing the pace, and by the 1500 they had a couple seconds on the field, and brought it home with a bit of room to spare for their third straight win in the V8 to become the first team in NCAA history to win three consecutive V8 championships.
The Cal varsity kept strong enough momentum to take silver while staying clear of some brutal fisticuffs for third, where Stanford edged Brown by 0.019 second, and Cal's team effort earned them the team trophy, just three points short of a perfect score for their first team championship since 2006.
After sharing with his team that they had won the team trophy, and welcoming the varsity back to the landing area, Cal coach Al Acosta reflected back on the season, one in which everyone including Cal had their share of wins and losses.
"We have a lot of trust in our teammates, and trust in our training, and we tried to key in on the successes we had earlier in the year," he said. "I do think losing those races played an important role in finishing here. It kind of really made us refocus and go a little harder.
Cal takes the team championship
"Here at the championship, our approach was just to focus on Cal and on what we can control," he said. "They all rowed with a lot of heart, coming through in the last few hundred meters for the JV and the four, and the Varsity just hanging on for dear life there. I think they really wanted to pull for each other, and none of those races kind of went according to plan."
Ohio State Wins the Varsity Eight
We talked with Ohio State coach Andy Teitelbaum for a bit after the Varsity eight race, and after his 2V's silver medal and four's fifth place finish earned them second place in the team tally; here is what he had to say.
Ohio State V8
row2k: This was one of those years where A beats B, B beats C, C beats A, and then here your crew really put something good together. How do you reckon the year, and then the last four, five days; how do you think your crew achieved this win?
Well, when you take a look at the year, obviously we started off with a loss to Brown and a very narrow victory to Princeton. And then we watched as Brown went out west and lost to both Stanford and Cal, with Cal seemingly ahead of the field. And then Stanford showed everybody that Cal could be taken, and then Cal turned that back around at Pac-12s.
So, when you're watching all of that, you're wondering, well, how close to that speed are we? And you don't know that until you get to the championship.
So that's something that makes the heats and the semis sort of really exciting and anxious, because you're trying to figure out are we near these crews or not; are we ahead of these crews, are we behind.
As the regatta plays out, I think the one thing that you tend to see are certain crews gaining momentum as the three days unfold, and other crews maybe stumbling. For this particular event, by the end of the semis yesterday, when you're looking at six crews who have all finished within two seconds of each other, you know that there are going to be six boats at the starting line that all believe that they can win. But your experience as a coach also tells you, all six of those boats are not going to be within two seconds of each other. Some of these crews are going to come and be able to put together a championship race, and others of them are going to falter.
And so, as a coach, all you're really trying to do is figure out what are the things we need to focus on to increase the probability that we're going to put together a championship race, and try and keep yourself and your crew paying attention to those things. Focusing on the process, staying within the shell.
If you have the opportunity to have something fortunate happen outside of the boat to build some momentum during the event, awesome; but if not, you better come off the water having rowed a really good race.
So I think whether it was 2014, or even 2013 when we didn't win (the Varsity 8) but we broke through and won as a team on the Varsity 8s bronze medal, and last year going up against Cal when the grand final was the first time we had raced them, there were a lot of unknowns.
This year I think it was really fortunate that wWe got to race them in the semi. We knew how we felt about the row that we had, and the margin that we had, and so I think we were feeling like we could definitely be better in the grand final. Whether that was going to be good enough, who knew? But we just sort of focused on what those things were going to need to be.
row2k: As this unfolded, I wondered if the varsity eight had just been lying in wait?
Teitlebaum: No. No. Definitely not (laughs). From the outside, I guess I can imagine how you could think that, particularly given the fact that we've strung a couple together now. But absolutely not. The race that they put together stunned me as much as I think anybody else who'd been watching the regatta. That was really all them just putting together their best row at the most important time.
Cal Wins Second Varsity Eight
Cal bow seat Sarah Schwartz has rowed in the second varsity for the past three years, this year in the bow seat after stroking for the past two years. Being in the event for three years, and at both ends of the boat, has given her an interesting perspective that played into today's win.
"The biggest thing that I've learned three years competing at the NCAA is that you have only control over your own blade and your own crew, and I think that that perspective really helped us through the end of the season," she said. "Especially at this regatta, just knowing that it doesn't matter what's going on in lane two, three, four, as long as we execute and take ownership over the control that we have over our crew and our own blades, then we know that our best is good enough. And we showed that out there today."
Asked about the differences from bow to stroke, Schwartz said that each has its challenges and advantages.
"Stroke seat may be the most challenging seat, because it has a mental element that not a lot of other seats have," she said. "I don't know what it felt like to stroke this crew in particular, but I really have a lot of respect for the freshman (Charlotte Wesselmann) who stroked our boat today. She's an incredible athlete and really fierce competitor, so I knew that if anyone was going to be stroking the boat, I would have the most trust in her."
And does Schwartz like the view from the bow seat?
"I do like it, because I can tell when everyone's focused, as opposed to just thinking, oh, people aren't focused," she said. "Maybe then I can actually see it from the bow and call people's attention back in and just remind them, it doesn't matter what's going on outside the boat, as long as we have our heads in here and focus on what's going on. Trust the rhythm, trust our stroke seat, and power drives the rhythm."
We were talking just before the Varsity eight final started, and I asked how it was sitting and waiting for the last race to come down the course.
"I trust that crew out there with my life and there's three seniors in that boat, and I just know that they're going to lead the boat down to the end," she said. "This crew in particular, the whole team, has a lot of love and trust in each other, and in our crew I know that we did what we said we were going to do, and I have so much trust in this boat as well."
Positive Cal Sprint Takes the Varsity Four
The Cal four staged the best sprint of the regatta to stun everyone watching as they blasted through from several seats down to win the race in the final three-four strokes of the race over Washington. It might not have hurt to have a local in the coxswain seat; Cal coxswain Riley Brown learned her craft with Capital Crew, which rows on Natoma.
"I don't necessarily think back to my high school days, but I love this course," Brown said. "I feel confident in it. I know every hundred meter, you know, this is the last 1,100, last 1K, last 900. You know, there's ranger's dock, 900. There's fishing pier, 350. Steps, 250. And I love that and it's great for my girls too. It brings a lot of confidence and so, yeah, I do love this course more than any other course."
Brown said the crew was mainly defending their second place spot until the very end of the race, when they started pulling up on Washington, and then went for it.
"Our motto for this race was, 'Anything we need, it's yes." Yes, yes, yes. We can always go, yes. We can shift up, yes. Catches in, yes. So, we hit our last 350, yes. We finish it, yes. We go harder now. Yes we've got you Ellie (stroke seat Howe), and she did what she needed to do and we got the job done, so we're bow ball moving through that Washington boat really in the last 20 strokes, and the answer is just yes. All five of us knew."
2016 NCAA Championships is in the Books
When it was all over, the Cal athletes threw each other in the water (including a one-armed coxswain toss while selfie videoing the whole thing by Kendall Chase), threw the coach in the water, got thrown in the water by the coach, splashed teammates trying to get their photos taken, all the stuff you should do when you win your first team championship in 10 years (or any time you win the team championship, really). A short while before, asked if he could have seen it going like this when he started at Cal two years ago, Acosta was slightly abashed.
"No, not at all; not at all," he said with a laugh. "I was just hoping not to screw it up, really."
Was it difficult, a lot of pressure, fun?
"This is fun, yes," he said. "Yeah, this is fun."
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