Some version of "here comes Texas" has been pinging around the rowing internet for the past few years, but today, in the final of the DI V8 at the NCAA championships in Sarasota, Texas raised their speed and kept coming and coming until they crossed the line, capturing the win and the team title in the process.
"There was no shortage of drama in the last race. I knew things had to align perfectly for us to win, but I made a conscious decision not to tell the first eight what was at stake," said Texas head coach Dave O'Neill. "I figured it was best to let them go out and do their thing, and that's exactly what they did."
"When they started to move with 500 meters to go, I had a good feeling they were going to pull it off," O'Neill said. "The toughness, composure, and teamwork that went into that sprint was fun to watch, and I'm really proud of everyone on the team.
"I knew Stanford was going to put up a real fight to the end and that Washington had shown great spirit, as well. I'm glad we were able to step up to the challenge and get to the line first."
"The second eight and four raced their hearts out, and put us in a position to win it," O'Neill said. "Admittedly, they were a little disappointed with the result, but we are all proud of their efforts."
O'Neill also noted that the multiple delays, which put off the V8 final about three hours later than originally scheduled, didn't affect his team in the slightest.
"I think the delay today worked in our favor a little in a couple of ways," O'Neill noted. "First, our team always seems to rally when there's some sort of chaos. Also, the support and send-off by the entire team were electric. It was one of the more amazing moments of team spirit I've been a part of."
Texas splits in the final were 1:34.793, 1:34.244, 1:35.356, 1:32.994, a solid negative split. Their slower start, in the headwind on the course following the two-hour weather delay, probably served them well in the last quarter of the race.
Texas team celebrates the title
Runners-up Stanford finished second in every race today, for what was Stanford's best team finish since 2011. "These kids know what this opportunity was," said Stanford head coach Derek Byrnes. "When the year started, we weren't even sure if we would be allowed to compete. And when we were allowed, we weren't sure if we could stay on campus, or would have to live on the road, like basketball."
Byrnes unequivocally gave full credit for Stanford's performance to his team. "It's a remarkable kind of kid that comes to row for Stanford," he said. "It's a grind. They all have big goals, they have their rowing goals, and then they also have big goals in what they want to do in their lives. When the pandemic hit, and they all had to go home, they all decided they were going to double down on their educations, get a masters degree, or get another major. That's just how they're geared, which is lucky for us because they are just used to giving more, as their second nature."
The Stanford V8 broke the race open in the 3rd 500
Byrnes also acknowlegdged that, going into the week, he little idea of what to expect from his team, other than that they were hungry to compete. "I think we erged twice in three months, we had kids in full lockdown that were running in their apartment stairwells to stay in shape, there's no way we should have been ready to race doing what we did," said Byrnes. "We just have a great senior class, so if we did something that seemed to be working, they kind of piped up and let us know. We probably lifted more than we normally would, we ran more than we normally would."
"Our seniors, for a variety of reasons, have had to battle through a lot, and I think it made them great leaders, because nothing has come easy to them. We've been building this for a few years. Stanford has always had a good team, Yaz did a phenomenal job here, I was lucky to follow in her footsteps, but we're not done."
Texas, Stanford & Washington finished in a three-way tie for first place at in the D1 points standings, with each of the three teams scoring 126 points. With both the 2V and the V4 finishing Washington-Stanford-Texas, the regatta looked to be Washington's to win before Texas turned on the jets. In the event of a tie in the points, the tiebreaker is the finishing order in the V8.
Washington 2V sprinted for the win
After winning two out of three team titles from 2017-2019 (Cal broke up the streak in 2018), it's tough for Washington to come up short, even as they won two events here, but head coach Yaz Farooq was gracious.
"I've been asked how I feel about the three way tie a lot. The varsity eight race order is the tie breaker. That's how it should be. When I was at Stanford we were runner up to Brown in 2011 in a tiebreaker and I felt the same way then. Congrats to Texas and Stanford.
"We knew we would have to be assertive in the first 1k of the V8 race since we had raced Stanford twice before. Credit to them for pushing the level of the race. And hats off to Texas for a fantastic second thousand to earn the win."
"The 2V8 sprint was right up there with our 2019 V8 win. It was a little daunting when Stanford got such a big lead in the middle of the race, but they worked through Texas and got back in striking distance. The sprint has been a challenge for that boat this year, but they rewrote it last night, committed to it, and turned it into a real weapon.
"The four rowed an incredibly gutsy race. That boat is made up of all Washington women, including two walk-ons, Kat Slack who came to us from the track team, and Fiona Shields. That boat has been together for a week and they did an incredible job of improving every day up until and through the championship.
Washington captured the V4 with a solid row
"I'm beyond proud of all three of our boats and the team effort that went into this season and this weekend. It was pretty awesome to see such amazing races in the midst of a pandemic. I'm equally proud of our team for adhering to COVID protocols for eight full months and for not having a single COVID case. When we got our final negative test results back on Friday we thanked our medical team for everything they did to help us stay healthy and safe. We wouldn't be here without them."
The weather delays today did not make things any easier for anyone; already delayed almost two hours in the morning due to weather, a cell of thunderstorms moved over the course just before the final race of the day, so the most anticipated race in women's college rowing in two years stayed that way for almost two hours more, yeesh.
As we've remarked here, and elsewhere, COVID and the strange landscape of who could train, travel and do all of the little things necessary to get to the NCAAs definitely had an effect this year, but one of those effects would have to be those teams that achieved new heights or program best finishes this year.
Seventh-place Rutgers, in only their third NCAA appearance ever, notched their first ever top-10 team finish, while Syracuse also cracked the top 10 for the first time. Additionally, Alabama qualified their V8 for the petites in their first-ever trip to NCAAs, while SMU, also a first time NCAA qualifier, saw their 2V place eighth in the event.
Central Oklahoma Makes it Three in DII
Two three boat finals, in the V8 and V4, determined the national champions in DII, and Central Oklahoma clobbered the field, as they have all week, beating Mercyhurst by 24 seconds to win the four, and 14 seconds to win the eight.
"Everyone at some level is doing the work," said UCO head coach Brian Ebke, reflecting on his first, full, un-cancelled season at UCO. "A big difference from earlier in the year has been the positivity and excitement to do the work, and the team pushing each other in a healthy, productive way to really be our best."
The UCO V8 celebrates their title
Despite winning big, Ebke did not think his team was coasting. "In Division II rowing, if it's not us, then someone else is going to be pushing the bar too, there are a lot of teams out there, who we will see in the next few years, that are probably looking at the bar, and are clever enough to say, hey, the bar is rising, we're going to one-up it."
Reflecting on his team's three year streak, Ebke was philosophical. "To keep it going, you're going against human nature to a certain extent," he said. "We're lucky in that the young athletes are hungry to see how far they can go. They are the type of people who are not going to be satified or complacent, and will want to keep pushing.
"We're thrilled with this weekend, and it's been a ton of fun, but they're already thinking, 'what's next?'"
Material from Texas sports information was used in this report