Bears Set To Compete At IRA National Championship
The crescendo has reached its peak.
The Cal men's rowing team has treated the 2021 spring season as a journey, with one eye on the present but the other always firmly on the finish line. The climax is finally here, as the Golden Bears compete this weekend at the 2021 Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championship at Mercer Lake in West Windsor, N.J.
"It's been a long, arduous process to get here," Cal head coach Scott Frandsen said. "We are grateful to be racing and give our guys the chance to put two years of training to the test."
Without a fall season because of COVID-19, the Bears knew they would have to be patient with their development this season. The usual chemistry-building and tinkering with boat lineups that can take place during the first semester wasn't possible, and Cal has used every second of its spring training to try to maximize its potential as much as possible.
The Bears lost just once during the regular season and finished second at the Pac-12 Championships. They enter the weekend regarded as a legitimate threat to win their first IRA national championship since 2016.
Cal's varsity eight is a diverse mix of athletes from different backgrounds and experience. Freshman Frederik Breuer has sat in the stroke seat all season next to graduate student Brett Cataldo, who coxed the second varsity eight to the IRA national championship in 2019. Another graduate transfer – Wibout Rustenburg – sits in the boat along with two sophomores and three seniors.
"It's been a great mix of guys coming from all different angles," Frandsen said. "The challenge has been that usually you have 10 or 11 months to get everyone on the same page, and this year we had four months. Rowing is a unique sport in that everybody is working at their absolute physical limit, but you have to do it in perfect unison together. A lot of that comes down to the number of strokes together. It's been a challenge to get that efficiency and perfect timing."
This will mark the final weekend of collegiate racing for seniors George Finlayson and Jack Robertson, whose team leadership was particularly valuable over the past year dealing with the challenges of COVID-19. The Bears spent the fall attempting to stay connected despite not being physically in Berkeley together.
Finlayson was also named the Pac-12 Scholar Athlete of the Year earlier this month.
"George and Jack have really set the culture of the team in academics and training mentality the past four years," Frandsen said. "It was challenging as team leaders to continue to have an impact when the team wasn't in Berkeley together. But they proved it's still very possible to have an impact on the group virtually. They really had a huge impact on the group starting four years ago, in a rowing sense and also in the classroom. There's no reason not to have the expectation to excel at both."
The IRA National Championship, which was canceled last year due to COVID-19, was shortened from a three-day event to just two days this season, beginning Friday morning with time trials. The semifinals take place Friday afternoon with the finals set for Saturday.