The Cooper is lucky for the Cardinal: these waters have served up both of Stanford’s titles--the first in 2009 and again here in 2023--and for all the speed, grit, and talent that Stanford brought to bear, more than one coach we spoke to acknowledged that you do need a bit of luck to have it all break your way when every crew in the final has the speed to win it on their best day.
In the end though, it was the Cardinal having not just their best day, but a third best day in a row: the Stanford 1V8 Won the heat, the semi, and the final. Stanford's 2V8 Won the heat (in an upset), the semi and the final. Stanford's four? Won the heat and the semi, then took a fourth that scored more than enough points for a team with eights that could sweep to wins.
One last sweet Cooper coincidence? The Stanford 1V rows in a shell named for their three-time Olympic Champion alum Elle Logan, who helped power the 2009 Stanford varsity to that first Cooper championship.
The Podium - STA, WAS, PRI, TEX
Washington's eights each took second, lifting the Huskies to second overall, even with the UW four in the Petite final. Since the points differential in the four is just one point per place, the Washington eights were able to make up those points with their finals performances-- the team points aren't over until the last boat crosses the line.
Princeton repeated their bronze in the eight and third in the team trophy from 2022; the back-to-back thirds in the team is a first for the Tigers, and their best as a team since a runner-up finish back in the very first NCAA Regatta, in 1997.
Texas rounded out the podium in fourth, and while the title run for Texas may have stopped--or just paused--at 2, that still makes 6 straight podium appearances by the Longhorns. Texas might have finished higher but for the flock of geese which impacted the Texas 2V in their Grand Final--the unfortunate whoa-did-you-see-that moment of the regatta that we will cover in more depth below--and even this fourth was, as it happens, another tie, this time with Yale. That makes it Texas' third tie in a row, and settling this one meant that even the 5-6 finish in the 1V Eights mattered, where Texas edged Yale to claim the last podium spot.
The Champion - Stanford
Literally, no team has been closer to winning it all than Stanford these past three years, with Stanford collecting all the points they needed in 2021 and 2022, but not the crucial 1V tie-breaker. This year, as we noted earlier in the weekend, they came in with all their boats on form, and none of the other teams could put together a coalition of finishes to challenge them.
"At NCAAs, a lot has to go your way," said head coach Derek Byrnes afterwards. "Across the three days of racing, there are just so many highs and there's a bunch of lows and it's about riding it out."
"The last two years, tying? Texas is a good team. You gotta be on and you got to be on for every round. And you never know how it's gonna go. One day you beat someone in the semi final, and the next day, they beat you by two feet. That's just the way it is. All these teams, they've got such great coaches and they've got good training plans and they teach it so well.
"The last several years, we've been pretty lucky and the groups we've had have been awesome. I feel like this group was just as talented as the previous few, and the difference was that we've got really good team leaders. They just galvanized the whole group.
"We talk a lot about how it is not about 23, it's about 43," said Byrnes, referring to the larger team back home supporting the twenty-three athletes on the NCAA squad. "It's about everyone contributing and everyone making an effort. The team believes in that and they push, and if someone goes down, someone steps in that role. The practices are unbelievably competitive, and they thrive in that environment.
"We have kids like Katelin Gildersleeve and Azja [Czajkowski] and they just teach the younger kids, right from the get go, what it means to be a part of the team. Before they ever even get to campus, they're reaching out and establishing what the culture is. It just becomes so supportive, and when kids need someone to lean on, they've got 42 people. The [team] does that before they even arrive, and it's fun to be a part of. It's more about holding them back than anything."
"We get kids in here who might come in having accomplished a lot, but they are able to show a lot of humility early on and they want to learn. When Katelin Gildersleeve came in [eds. after winning a bronze in the single at U19 Worlds in 2019], she had to transition from sculling, which was all she did, to sweep rowing. So the fall of her freshman year, she just did pair circles constantly. And she's become just a hell of a leader on our team, she's the heart and soul of the whole thing. She also just figured out how to do it and became one of our fastest pair rowers at the end. She loves to race, too, and anyone that comes to practice and watches, eventually they turn to the fact that she's just smiling the whole time. She loves to grind."
The night before the final Stanford for a visit from another Stanford Olympian, Lindsey Meyer, who was in the 2009 championships varsity with Elle Logan.
"She talked to the team about the last time Stanford won," said Byrnes, "what that meant and she was very grounded about everything. [Telling them] you'll never remember the actual race itself, but you will remember the people afterwards and jumping in the water and all that. You won't remember calls or moves, so just relax, respond and execute way you know how to."
Runner-Up - Washington
Washington was not one of the four teams to make it to the Grands with all three boats, but as we noted yesterday, that hasn't stopped teams from making a run in the past, as both Brown and Ohio State have done.
And make a run the Huskies did, with both eights proving themselves the only crew that could hang with Stanford in the last two Grand Finals, extending a podium streak for the storied Washington program that goes back to 2017 and includes two of the Huskies' 5 NCAA titles.
The Women of Washington
"We knew it was going to be harder to win," said head coach Yaz Farooq, when asked about how the team looked at things after the four missed making the Grand. "But at the same time, we also knew that Stanford had been setting the bar all year. And the four is one point, so what we said was, you [the four] could score up to 16 points for the team, and Brown won the national championship with a boat in the B Final, so we knew it had been done. So finish as high as you can, get some points, and we're in this. We are 100% in this.
"We always talk about how this is the greatest weekend of the year because this is incredible women at the top of our sport, and it's going to be side by side potentially for 240 strokes, so let's celebrate that. It is freaking awesome that we're going to be pushed at the hardest level. Why wouldn't we want that? Because then we're going to uncover something about ourselves and maybe find something that we can do together. Create something together that is magical.
"Every day this week," Farooq reflected, "I was just feeling sad because it's just been such an incredible year of everybody supporting and elevating each other and trying to make one another as fast as they could be. I have never had a year where you have the 1V and the 2V eight, throwing down, side by side, and just pushing each other at such a high level and then also being so open, vulnerable, and sharing of information to try to help each other getting better, knowing that that would elevate the entire team.
"It was uncanny. Throughout the whole team, they held one another accountable at the highest level."
"It's one thing as a coach to say, 'Hey, if you do this, this is going to help us be faster.' And it's another thing to have teammates saying to one another, 'Not only are we going to do this, we're going to embrace this workout. We're going to embrace this weather. We're going to embrace this suck. We're going to make the most out of every moment that we have together. And they did."
Princeton Repeats Bronze in Eight, Third in Team
With Princeton in third for a second year in a row, Yale in fifth, Penn in 6th and Brown in 7th, the Ivies had themselves a fine day. The last time four Ivies made the top ten was 2005, and no other conference this year had as many schools in the top ten; the Pac-12 was closest with three: Stanford, Washington, and 8th placed California.
Princeton's spot on the podium came down to a gritty efforts by all three boats to make the Grands and by the Varsity Eight's third place in the final race.
To get there, and snag a middle lane in the Grand, Princeton's 1V had rowed a tremendous semi on Saturday:
"That was an amazing race," said head coach Lori Dauphiny about Saturday's effort. "It was one of the most well executed races they raced all year. I couldn't really find anything from that except for confidence going into the final."
"You never know what will happen in the finals. This year, it felt, maybe more than any other year, so tight, within tenths of seconds difference between boats. So I really didn't know what would happen today, but we were determined to race our race and do the best that we could. I didn't pretend to figure out where people would be in this race, because there's no way I would know.
"I thought it was fierce," Dauphiny said about the Tiger's race today. "I thought they did their best, they laid it down. I think they were really proud of themselves when they came in. I know I was proud of them, and I'm just grateful for everyone that helped, grateful for the coverage, and grateful for all the people around us because we couldn't do it without them."
Dauphiny reflected on the Texas 2V's misadventure in the final; the Texas and Princeton 1Vs, 2Vs, and V4s have raced each other three times this year; once in the regular season, and twice each at the championship, so have been side by side a lot more than might be the case for two teams that are 1700 miles apart.
"You want everyone to have their best, cleanest race on the last day of the year, and we all know how tough it is to have something happen that is so outside your control; I really feel for those athletes," Dauphiny said.
Texas Takes Fourth Podium Spot - And About Those Geese
While the day, as it ended, clearly belonged to Stanford, it might help to remember here that it was still looking good for Texas after the Longhorn four won--with Stanford three places, and points, behind--as the 2V Eight Grand Final lined up.
As those 2V crews got ready, the course was not clear, however: a large pod of geese was moving across lanes 4, 5 and 6 at about the 400 meter mark. At least one coach tried at full throat booming throughout the start area to ask the referees staged along the course to clear the geese, but nothing happened, the race started--and the Texas 2V plowed into the gaggle at full speed at a point in the race when all six crews were very much racing for the early lead.
You can watch it here, starting at the 1:43:30 mark, where the geese are clearly visible from the start, and see the carnage in our photo sequence starting here.
After the bird strike, which cost Texas about a length, the five crews that had not been impeded pulled away, and Texas came home in 6th despite a game effort to get themselves back in contention.
This led to a smart protest on the water by the Texas coxswain, Carly Legenzowski, but ultimately Texas Head Coach Dave O'Neill decided not to file a formal protest.
"One minute in, they hit a pack of geese," said O'Neill, who was biking alongside when it happened, "and one minute in, as all rowing coaches know, the boat's moving the fastest at that point and setting the tone for everything.
"We definitely have a call right around there," he added, "but all momentum stopped, bow seat got a shoulder injury, and..."
"We've talked about that, you know, you keep going and then you protest at the finish. So the crew did everything right."
One recourse could have been a re-row to give the crew another shot at earning an unmarred result.
"They want to go again," said O'Neill about the crew. "They were like, let's do it, come on, but the way things shook out, we weren't going to be the team that makes everyone go and row again. We accepted what happened, and we decided ultimately not to protest."
Just one place higher by the crew would have put Texas in third overall.
As it was, fourth place, via the tie-break over Yale, kept the Texas string of podium finishes under O'Neill going for another year.
Texas on the podium
"I think the level has been raised," said O'Neill about the racing overall at NCAAs. "Every year seems like it's always getting tougher, and the level is getting faster and faster. That was a good first eight we had here. They weren't at their best today, for whatever reason, but that's how it goes.
"I'm super proud of being on the podium and being one of those top teams, because it's hard. Winning's hard, and I think one thing for us is that we've had been so accustomed to winning, that sometimes you forget how hard it really is. It was a hard year. Just like everyone goes through challenges, we had some challenges this year, and I'm proud of what we accomplished."
Penn's Breakout Year
Just three spots behind Princeton was Penn, snagging sixth place in just their second trip to the NCAAs to make a bit of history to take back to their newly renovated home on Boathouse Row.
"We really started the project at the end of last year, saying that we want to do a way better job [at NCAAs]," said Wesley Ng, the Penn head coach. "We said we wanted to race in the last race of the regatta, the 1V Grand Final. We had everyone return, and so they did summer rowing and did a better job all the way around, did lots of little things better. That kept rolling as time went on, and to go from 11th as a team to 6th as a team, I am blown away by the team effort to make that happen.
"It's just so hard to do that with the quality of programs at the higher level," Ng noted. "I'm just deeply thankful for them committing to that all the time, because we don't have the same tradition to fall back on. We're writing that story now.
"The other thing that was really touching is the number of programs that were excited for us. In some ways, we might be proving that it's possible to change the status quo."
Ng was spot on about the support from other teams: after Princeton and Penn crossed the line nearly together for third and fourth in the V8, both crews were cheering for each other: "Yeah, Ivies!"
"There's far more mutual respect for what is happening, and [our teams are] proving that the Ivy model can be successful," said Ng.
Penn got in front of Brown here by just a single point, and a few pundits noticed in photos and on the livestream that Ng had changed the lineup of his 2V for the final race--a change, Ng admitted, that he made in search of every point he could find.
"I felt like the crew needed a charge and a little bit of something fresh. We were a little bit flat, so between the AB semi-final and the petite final, we switched our stern four."
"I think it was a brave effort from the original second varsity lineup. They had refined stuff and they actually had a better piece in the semi final, but it just wasn't enough. So we surprised them by putting in a new stroke and that allowed us to focus in just purely on the moment and thank goodness they did, because we only finished one point ahead of Brown and needed those points in the 2V for that to occur."
SMU, Duke, and GW Make Best-Ever Runs
Penn was not alone in notching some program-best finishes: SMU used a win the the 1V Petite to finish ninth in just their third appearance.
"This team has been awesome," said Kim Cupini, the Mustang's head coach. "They have worked super hard and stayed focused all year on their goal of leading SMU to its first ever Top 10 team finish.
"I am super proud of how each boat raced, and the varsity raced their hearts out to win the Petite Final. I was so impressed by them, they raced for their team and program, getting ahead of teams they never have beaten before. What the women have done was amazing, bringing a no-name program to where SMU finished today."
Duke also moved up, to a best-ever 14th, and George Washington was definitely headed for a historic finish in their first trip as a team, The GW 2V made the most of the opportunity they had in the semi to make the C Final, giving GW enough points to finish 20th in their first trip.
Lastly, for all the point tallying and permutations for the team trophy, it was clear again this year that a fast 1V still matters, quite a bit: both the SMU finish and Syracuse improving on last year by moving up to 13th came on the strength of a fast varsity eight able to get up into the front of the Petite final and scoop up some bigger points.
Notes from the Course
Sister Act, Part III - One last set of sisters--tho we will keep the tip line open! In the Texas 2V, we have our final (?) set of sisters for 2023: Payten and Taryn Kooyers. Thanks to mom Stephanie for making sure we didn't miss them in the list.
And the Trailer Race Goes to... USC! Part of the getaway procedure this year with the trailers stored off site we getting back in to pick up your shells, but the USC boatman cleverly skipped to the front of the line by parking his trailer--which is now sticker free, we are happy to report--in the first spot out on the road...and when you had 3000 or so miles ahead of you, a good head start is exactly what you need.
Helps to be Local - Penn, the favorites of the hometown just across the river, arrived to find the sidewalk chalked up in their honor, and them both luck and "Carpe Omnia" -- we plan to feature full coverage of the artwork in this week's row2k Recap.
Deck Decorations - the artwork on the bow and stern decks have gone up a notch for sure, perhaps inspired by Ohio State's 'buckeye decks' that have been around a few years at this point. We spotted tiger stripes for Princeton and the classic Hoosier red & white pinstripes on the Indiana shell, which, of course, matched the IU warmup pants. What will we spot next year?
Last People at the Regatta Again, This Time With About $20k of Other People's Stuff - row2k typically leaves the regatta site last save for the cleanup crews, and this year were able to perform a few good deeds; first, a photographer's bag disappeared, and ultimately he was able to track it by airtags to Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles stadium, and he bolted there to find it; then we found a backpack full of heaps of credentials, a Dell laptop, and granola bars and called the owner, who was already home, to come back and get it; then we found a Canon 1Dx, lens, and extender, original purchase value around $8k, pulled the memory card on which the owner had Sharpie'd a phone number, called it, and set up a return of the camera for Monday here at row2k HQ. Hopefully Sunday evening at the IRA is less interesting!