June 4, 2010
CHERRY HILL, N.J. - All five Washington boats advanced to the Grand Finals of the 108th annual IRAs on Friday morning, putting the Huskies in pole position to defend their National Championship.
Four of five Husky crews picked up wins on the 2,000-meter course on the Cooper River. The best, and most tense, race of the day went to the varsity eight, which was locked in a dogfight with Cal in the semifinals. Despite being the two fastest crews in the heats, the Huskies were seeded with the Golden Bears. And in the first 500 meters of the race, neither team was able to gain an edge on one another. It wasn't until the 1,000-meter mark that the Huskies were able to take a one-seat lead, rowing at a brisk 39 strokes per minute. The teams then lengthened into a base rhythm, and at the 1,500-meter mark, the Huskies catapulted towards the finish, sprinting to a five-seat win over Cal, winning in a time of 5:32.362. The Golden Bears checked in one second back.
In the Grand Final, the Huskies will be grouped with Harvard, Brown, Syracuse, California and Cornell. Washington has already faced the Orange, having defeated their top eight at the Windermere Cup in Seattle.
With so much on the line, men's coach Michael Callahan expressed excitement at the quality of competition. The fastest crew goes home with a National Championship.
"This is great for racing," Callahan said. "We're up against some strong crews, but this is what the IRAs are all about. This is a game of fitness now; VO2 max, power and skill."
Prior to the V8's race, the second varsity out-paced Ivy League power Brown in an all-out sprint to the finish. Brown took the initial lead out of the first 500, but Washington responded with a well-timed move to take a short lead at the halfway marker. The Huskies continued to hold the advantage, but were never able to walk away from Brown, which had posted the lowest 2K time in the initial heats. With 500 meters to go, Brown sprinted but it was expertly managed by coxswain Sam Ojserkis, who called for a sprint of his own. The Huskies pulled away, winning by a length in a time of 5:48.58.
Up next was the Grunties, who put forth a strong effort throughout the 2K race. Rowing a clean, controlled race, the freshmen won in a time of 5:48.509, nearly five seconds better than second-place Princeton. This moves the team into the finals, where their primary challenge is an in-form Cal team that easily won its semifinal heat with a similar time.
"I thought we executed pretty well," said freshmen coach Luke McGee. "It was good to row out front and give the guys some breathing room. It's the race that you wanted to row going into the finals."
The open four kicked off the semifinals with a tough heat, featuring a fast Cornell crew. Big Red exploded off the start, grabbing a length of open water by the first 500-meter mark. Washington was firmly entrenched in third place, and the crews remained yoked together through the middle portions of the race. Then with 500 meters to go, coxswain Laura Denman called for a sprint, and the Huskies pulled ahead, pulling away from both Brown and Harvard to finish second with a time of 6:27.98. This put UW in the Grand Finals.
The Husky crew was joined by the varsity four, which punished their field in a dominant effort. Stroked by sophomore Justin Hopkins, the V4+ established themselves from the start, rowing to a semifinal-best 6:24.296. Cal finished more than four seconds behind, followed by Brown. Those three crews move on to the semifinals, while the rest are relegated to the Petite Final.
"It brings me a lot of pride to see our guys doing well," Callahan said. "They're racing well, particularly in the second 1,000. They're competing as a team, not individuals. It's good to see them find that cohesion now."
Conditions on the Cooper River mirrored those on Thursday - hot, fast and windy. And the races didn't disappoint, as several semifinal heats called for photo finishes. Not so for Washington, which is one day away from potentially securing the 14th IRA Championship in its storied history.
The action gets underway when the open four Grand Final race kicks off at 5:48 a.m. PST.