Huskies Emerge Victorious at IRAs
June 8, 2009
2009 Men's Rowing IRA Championships
|Championship Dates||Thursday, June 4-Saturday, June 6|
|Location||Lake Natoma, Gold River, CA|
|Day 1 Recap|
|Day 2 Recap|
|Live Results||Provided by JAMCO|
|Oregon State Rowing||osubeavers.com|
Courtesy of Row2k.com
The 107th running of the IRA Regatta, notably the first on the west coast, and perhaps even more notably the first in the new, considerably scaled-down format, concluded Saturday with a spectacular near-sweep of the men's heavyweight events by WASHINGTON; the squad won all three eights events, one of the two fours, and placed second in the other fours race - obviously resulting in bagging the team trophy as well. You don't get much better days than that at this level. In an exemplary spectacle of Pac-10 domination, CALIFORNIA and STANFORD rounded out a Conference sweep in the grand-daddy varsity eight competition. The Golden Bears fell to the Huskies by less than a second after entering the race as the top seed.
Like their varsity four counterparts, the Washington open four seems to like to race from behind, with a measured but relentless push that tends to get them ahead not so far from the finish line. The racing style wasn't taught, but did end up to work well, according to Washington fours coach Ben Fletcher. 'I don't know if the guys like to race that way, and it's really stressful to watch, but they've been doing it well all year, and I'm really happy that the open four was able to get through,' he said. Fletcher was happy to be at the service of two fours in the medals; 'I'm really appreciative of everything I have learned from Mike Callahan and Luke, and that they gave me the opportunity and allowed me to do with the guys. The depth of the program is all thanks to their efforts, and I learned a lot and owe them a lot for the chance.'
The crew trained side by side with the varsity four that placed second; Fletcher put up his fists to describe the sparring that they did back in Seattle every day. The open four also included a local hero: bow-seat senior Peter Carlson grew up in the foothills of Sacramento across from the finish line.
Cal took the Varsity four with a front-loaded race plan that was able to withstand the Husky four's patented late charge for the first time in several meetings this year. 'Washington has a really good boat, and they have a great second 1000; our crew lost to Washington every time we met this year, and we always had the lead with 750 to go,' Cal fours coach Luke Agnini said after the race.
'We made some lineup changes, and did a lot of work on the second 1000 the past week and a half. Then the same thing happened in the heat - we led Washington for 1990 meters, and they got through us in the last 10 strokes - but the guys did not have a great piece; in the sprint they were working hard as individuals, but not really as a unit. We knew that if we just held things together better at the end, we could hold them off. We had to do it the hard way through the reps, but I knew they could do it today when they had to.'
In terms of experience and raw talent, the University of Washington frosh crew may be the most talented frosh eight ever at the IRA. The stroke was a U23 crew member for Germany, the seven seat was in the 2008 German Olympic pair that placed fourth; both are in their early 20s. And at the age of 18, the six seat was in the Canadian U23 eight that also won the Grand Challenge at Henley last year (he had been on the Canadian junior team previously, so opted to try out for the U23 team for the extra challenge).
But the crew is not completely full of internationals; the five-seat is a walk-on football player from Colorado whose sister rowed at Wisconsin, and had given the rowing coaches a call over the summer. Are they the best frosh eight ever? 'They're pretty darn good, but things change so much over time that it would be tough to say if they are the best ever,' said UW frosh coach Luke McGee. 'I would think they would be up there for sure, at least.' If anyone thought that a W in the frosh eight was a done deal with that much talent on board, McGee was careful not to take anything for granted. 'I think our experience last year where they came up a little short in the last race of the year helped a bit. And it's a good mix of experience and new guys, so that kept them on track as well.
'Last night I told them they didn't have to do anything different, and just to keep things normal - if they usually wake up three hours before the race, then wake up three hours before the race. If they usually have a bagel before the race, have a bagel before the race. But I also said that a good boat can win a lot of races, but it takes a great boat to be champions, and that they would have to show up and race today.'
The crew didn't have a completely smooth showing on the day; when the coxswain hoisted the trophy overhead, she was not aware that the trophy was not attached to the wooden base, and the trophy flipped backwards behind her right into the water.
Second Varsity Eight
The Washington 2V started to make a Husky eights sweep a possibility with a runaway victory over the field. The crew made a couple switches after a loss in San Diego, and hasn't lost since. 'We changed things around just a little bit, and the crew took off,' said UW assistant coach Wyatt Allen, who had been helping with the 2V and frosh in the early season, and then focused on the 2V starting a few weeks back. 'They really found a rhythm, and a couple of the bigger guys found their length, and that did it.'
The night before the final, Allen reminded the crew of how much racing they had done this year with the varsity and frosh eights. 'They had never really had a day where in practice they did not put on a solid showing,' he said. 'So we wanted just to do what they had done in practice, and to perform to that potential.'
For 1250 meters, the varsity eight final looked like a Cal-Stanford dual, with a whole lot of boats rowing a length behind in a second race entirely. But once Washington broke from that following pack, they picked up a sense of momentum that carried them until they were level with Cal with 10-12 strokes to go, and they kept going all the way to the line and the national championship, including a sweep of the eights events and the team title.
After so many close races this season, and not all of them wins, the Washington varsity clearly enjoyed their victory here - stroke Will Crothers crawled the length of the hull just over the finish line to embrace every guy in the boat.
After having already won three of four events going into the varsity eight final, Washington head coach Mike Callahan said he mostly was very happy for the athletes in the shells, but he also had a sense that it was likely that the training all of the crews had done together in the weeks after the Pac-10 had been on track. 'Similar to the Pac-10, in the end it came down to the last race, but I had a good feeling seeing the other crews win,' he said.' 'I was confident that our training over the past few weeks had put us in a good position.'
And Washington's brutal schedule, in which they raced Cal and Stanford multiple times, as well as Wisconsin and Harvard, had helped them understand who they were up against. 'Last year we hadn't seen Wisconsin, and while we had some tough races this year, at least we had seen most of our competition,' he said. 'It was hard for us along the way, but we stayed focused on our end goal of getting better every week to try to put it all together at the end, and it seemed to work well.
'After the Pac-10, we knew we had to do something different, and it really helped that we have some mature guys that we kept trusting to stay positive while we took a hard look at ourselves,' he said. 'We did a lot of racing between the two varsity boats along with the freshmen, and with the freshmen as a really consistent marker, we were able to keep getting better. And they came up with a better answer in their last regatta.'
In the end Callahan made a few changes inside the boat. 'We shuffled the port side, putting Jesse (Johnson) at six, with BJ (Bart-Jan Caron) at four,' he said. 'Jesse had rowed six behind Will as a freshman, really backing him up, and BJ rowed four in that boat, and in the end it just seemed like that was where they should be.' Callahan specifically mentioned the seniors in the boat as having had a big impact at Washington. 'They have meant a lot to Washington rowing, and to me personally,' he said. 'They left a great mark here, and were rewarded with a championship. But it is part of the beauty of college athletics that athletes move on and everything starts over, and you can never count on anything. Getting synergy in a crew is always a challenge, and you never know what will happen. Next year will be a new year with new challenges, and you have to be up for it.'
With a stellar frosh eight coming up, Callahan remains circumspect about the future. 'I am really humbled by the position I am in, and especially thankful to Bob (Ernst) for the opportunity,' he said. 'He has been a great mentor to me. And all of our coaches work really closely together, which has been really fun, and for which I feel very lucky. I think also there was tremendous parity in the field this year, which is incredibly exciting. With Mike out here, it is a massive new challenge; I rowed for Mike and he is a great coach, and they brought out a lot of things in us. Craig just keeps getting better, and with Harry, Paul, and Tom in that final, it was great to be a part of.'