Aug. 9, 2010
SEATTLE - "It doesn't have to be pretty. It just has to be fast."
These were the words men's crew coach Michael Callahan relayed to his rowers on a muggy June afternoon prior to the second varsity eight final at the IRA Championships in New Jersey. Yet with 500 meters left in the race, the Huskies found themselves trailing Brown University by ¾ of a length.
How the Huskies ended up winning the National Championship was nothing short of amazing, given the circumstances.
The stroke of that boat, Maxwell Weaver, recalled the race on a recent summer afternoon at Conibear Shellhouse. No other crew had tested UW's 2V8 all season in a run-up that had included a win in the Cal Dual, as well as a Pac-10 Championship. But challenges arose in the IRA Grand Final, the only race that truly counts. Brown had thrown down an excellent race against the Huskies, setting the pace from the onset and matching all the moves called by Washington coxswain Sam Osjerkis. The Huskies, true to Callahan's words, weren't rowing pretty at all. An abnormally high stroke rate spun their wheels.
But, in Weaver's mind, there was always an ace card.
"The one thing that remained in the back of our minds was that we knew we had a really fast sprint," Weaver said. "If the moves weren't going to work, then this would."
The problem was, the Huskies were running out of course on the Cooper River. With 300 meters to go, the sprint was called. The three seat, senior Simon Taylor, screamed "GO" and the Huskies took off. Everyone cranked on their oar and Washington miraculously walked through Brown at the finish line. It was, as Weaver later described, "Just close your eyes, believe and go."
The tricky thing about the Huskies sprint was that it had never been attempted during the season; the Huskies had won each of their races by open water. So to be down in a race, late, and test an unproven move required a lot of trust in one's teammates.
"When it really mattered, we never dealt with (a close race)," Weaver said. "All of our moves had always worked, we had always walked away. I don't think we got flustered; we had a really tight crew."
A mature crew is one that doesn't panic in close races. Weaver and his teammates never did because they believed in the sprint after honing it all season against the freshmen on Lake Washington during practices. The two boats were neck-and-neck all year, and the 2V8 had been able to drop the hammer at the end of pieces. So deep down, the option was there if needed.
That experience will prove invaluable for Weaver as he enters his super senior year at UW, part of an upperclassmen group that's hoping to accomplish a goal never before achieved in collegiate rowing - five straight Ten Eyck trophies. The Huskies picked up their fourth in a row at the IRAs with a dominating performance that included three wins in five classifications. For a program that's achieved so much throughout the history of the sport, this feat would be truly special.
Fitting in with the mantra of the program, Weaver has put the National Championship in the past. He's spending time on the UW campus working out, getting ready for the fall, when the Huskies workout almost exclusively in pair boats. This was how Weaver stood last October, putting forth a dominant effort in the pair trials - forged by hard work in the boat over the summer - to secure a spot in the top boat Callahan sent to Boston for Head of the Charles. And while Weaver eventually settled into his leadership role as stroke of the 2V8, he made an impression.
A native of Snohomish, Wash., Weaver had returned to the Huskies in the 2008-09 season after taking a year off from rowing. He stroked the varsity four to the IRA Grand Final at Lake Natoma in California, but failed to take down Cal in a race that unfolded similar to this year's final in which the Huskies simply ran out of room. Now, Weaver is focused on next season. He's anxious to compete for a spot in the varsity eight. But after taking a year off from the sport, he's glad to be back in one of the more tight-knit programs in the country; the camaraderie being one of the reasons he returned to the team. He loves how everyone pushes each other on every piece, every lift, striving to be better.
"In the bigger picture, in the community aspect of it, this really is a huge family," Weaver said. "If you see the things with the Varsity Boat Club, and you see all the people who come to the VBC banquet, and all of our donors and stewards, it's just a huge family, it really means a lot to me."