When the University of Michigan men's rowing team heads to Philadelphia for the 77th annual Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta on Friday May 8 and Saturday May 9 they will be looking to become just the second team in 10 years to repeat as champions in the men's varsity heavyweight eight division.
In order to accomplish this feat the Wolverines will once again have the challenge of bringing new oarsmen into the shell with hopes of the group coming together at the right time.
"Our team this year is composed of one of the hardest working groups of guys that I've heard of in our school's history," said senior Wes Vear, who rowed in the 4 seat last year. "Each and every guy on our team has ferociously attacked the training in a way that I couldn't have even hoped for at the beginning of the year, and it's been paying off on the erg. The excitement is palpable now that we're back out on the water and we can't wait to see how that strength transfers over in the boat."
"We are bringing five new oarsmen into the varsity heavyweight shell with the returnees being coxswain Demi Shanahan, junior Mitch Tyson (2 seat) and seniors Wes Vear (4 seat) and Matt Habers (7 seat)," said Michigan coach Gregg Hartsuff. "It is difficult to replace a lot of guys but sometimes change is good. New guys can be really, really hungry to state their case when they get a chance."
Watching his varsity heavyweight boat leading up to the 2013 Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta, Hartsuff felt something was not in synch. Two days prior to his team's favorite spring race, he took a calculated risk with his varsity heavyweight eight boat that would hopefully have long-term benefits.
While it did not pay dividends at the Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta in 2013, his instincts proved correct with his varsity heavyweight eight registering wins at the National Invitational Rowing Championships (NIRC) the following day and the American Collegiate Rowing Championships (ACRA) a couple of weeks later.
"They were going OK but not hitting the next gear they were capable of based on their physical profile," said Hartsuff. "There was never a full level of trust within the crew to that point, and then some conversations with a few key leaders of the crew revealed that. They weren't going to win the Dad Vail, NIRC, or ACRA the way it was going and the new personnel and combination was definitely faster so it was a calculated risk. While the Aberdeen Dad Vail didn't pan out, we won the NIRC the next day and then ACRA, so it paid off eventually."
The Wolverines returned to the City of Brotherly Love in 2014 with the mindset of taking back a title they had won four times since 2005. After waiting out a two-hour rain delay, Michigan picked up where they left off at the end of 2013 and claimed their fifth men's heavyweight eight title defeating Florida Tech by two seconds.
"The Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta is one our team's favorite races each year," Vear said. "After classes end for us in April, the month of May is dedicated solely to rowing and traveling to Philadelphia is seen as one of the highlights during that time. While the list is long for it being one of our favorite regattas, the sheer size and breadth of the Dad Vail is one of the most exhilarating aspects. Being able to race so many teams after a year of training makes the endless hours worthwhile."
The victory in the Men's Varsity Heavyweight gave Michigan the points they needed to edge out the University of Delaware and defending champion Drexel University to earn the Dr. Thomas Kerr Cup given to the Men's Overall Point Winner.
With the Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta less than six weeks away, the Wolverines are turning their focus toward their annual pilgrimage to Philadelphia with hopes of defending their crown.
Vear said, "As our coaches Hartsuff and Sullivan tell us repeatedly, we can't look at it as defending a title - you'll get complacent if you think you already have it and only need to defend it. We have to look at it as training to win that title, and our team has taken it to heart. Winning another Dad Vail title would be the perfect way to have all of our work pay off after a long, hard year of training. As a senior, I can't think of a better way to finish my college rowing career.