June 2, 2012
CHERRY HILL, N.J. - This was their moment. All season long, the training the Huskies exact each morning on Lake Washington has been directed toward this race.
And boy, did they ever deliver.
Washington went 5 for 5 in the Grand Finals, dominating the 110th IRA Championships on Saturday with a performance for the ages on the Cooper River. It secured a perfect season for the men's crew program, along with the first repeat title for Washington in more than 70 years. This National Championship was the fourth in six years for the Huskies, and the 15th overall for the program.
Safe to say, this was one of the most dominating seasons an athletic team has produced at the University of Washington.
Since the IRA began hosting five events (varsity eight, second varsity eight, freshmen eight, varsity four and open four), no crew has swept all five. That is, until the Huskies did so on Saturday. This produced the program's sixth straight Ten Eyck trophy, given annually to the overall points champion at IRAs.
Throughout the season, men's coach Michael Callahan has praised the crew for subjugating themselves for the betterment of the boat. In terms of accomplishments, the varsity eight was somewhat unheralded relative to their previous peers. Yet the group bought in 100 percent, and the results paid off on the water. Callahan noticed this before leaving for New Jersey. He ran his varsity through a speed test, only to see them smash a record that had been held for generations.
"Coming into this, we knew we had only one opportunity. We've been ready for this all year."
Senior coxswain Sam Ojserkis
As the UW varsity eight crossed the line, each of the oarsmen threw their arms in the air and let out roars that echoed through the grandstands of the course. Their time of 5:21.48 had shattered the previous best on the Cooper River, aided by a stiff tailwind that assaulted the course all morning.
"They really wanted to find themselves," Callahan said of his varsity. "This is a whole new boat. They really wanted to be known for their own accomplishments. Now they have a record, so I guess they have it."
The Huskies had an assault on their nerves at the start of the race when another crew claimed an equipment malfunction. But senior bow man Rob Munn pointed out this was a silver lining for the Huskies, who were sloppy when the flag initially dropped. The Huskies next start was much improved.
"We talked that champions stay composed," Callahan said. "And they did."
Coming into the final varsity eight race of the season, the onus was on the Huskies to row within themselves. All season long, the crew has been almost methodical about focusing and improving select aspects of their boat, much like an artisan fusses over his craft. The product on the water has been a crew capable of managing all aspects of a race, be it a tailwind, whitecaps or opposing crews bent on playing mental games. Nothing affects these Huskies, who row with the all-business purpose of a crew unfazed by the magnitude of the stage.
"Coming into this, we knew we had only one opportunity," said senior coxswain Sam Ojserkis. "We've been ready for this all year."
In a race much like Thursday's heat, the open four had to tap into their reserves to overcome Wisconsin at the finish. Trailing the Badgers by a seat going into the final 700 meters of the race, the Huskies called a sprint. As sophomore coxswain Josh Klein said after the race: "it was now or never time. We had to move."
Wisconsin couldn't match the effort, and as the boat crossed the finish line senior 3-seat Tom Lehmann raised his hand into the air. The winning time of 6:15.257 reflected the swift conditions of the course, just one second off the Washington varsity eight's time at Friday's semifinals.
The varsity four grand final also played out in similar fashion, with the Huskies taking a lead from the start before watching their main opponent overtake them in a dangerous position late. In the boat stroked by Robert Squires, the Huskies upped the tempo down a seat late, and used the momentum to pull away from California. Washington came across in a time of 6:12.58, which was less than two seconds head of the Golden Bears (6:14.09).
The freshmen eight continued the run, pulling away from their archrivals in California with 750 meters to go. The finishing sprint and fitness made the difference, as California expended a lot of energy staying level with the Huskies for more than half a race. Washington, however, was able to go to the well for another burst, coming across the line in a time of 5:31.90. Results of the race were not official because a crew protested after the race, complaining their performance was hampered by geese who had wondered onto the course. After almost an hour of deliberation, the times were upheld.
Another close race came in the 2V8 Grand Final. Washington came off the start with power, but fell behind to Brown at the midway point. A well-timed call returned the lead to the Huskies, followed by a sprint to pull away from the Bears. This gave the Huskies the Kennedy Challenge Cup for the fourth straight season.
Following the race, the Huskies embraced one another. They bellowed, woofed and hollered. The character of this crew was one that Callahan said made coaching it special, because he knew while they might not row the perfect piece, the effort would never have a day off. This gave the fifth-year UW coach confidence his group would perform when it mattered the most.
Same with the varsity eight oarsmen, who raced for the seniors, the rower (William Peter Allen) who passed away earlier this season and the co-captain (Mathis Jessen) who had to remain at home because of an illness.
"You knew it was all coming down to this race," Munn said. "It's tough to think about at times, because we don't race a lot of the crews from the East Coast. It's really tough to keep your head straight and stay composed. But that's what happened today."
IRA GRAND FINALS
Men's Freshmen Eight
(coxswain - Lisa Caldwell, stroke - Alexander Perkins, 7 - Henry Meek, 6 - Marcus Bowyer, 5 - Stephen Podwojski, 4 - Aleksander Malowany, 3 - Eric Ledbetter, 2 - Michael Evans, bow - Ian Drake)
1 Washington 5:31.902
2 California 5:35.659
3 Northeastern 5:43.629
4 Cornell 5:45.817
5 Harvard 5:46.381
6 Brown 5:52.331
Men's Open Four
(coxswain - Josh Klein, stroke - Edward Nainby-Luxmoore, 3 - Tom Lehmann, 2 - Reiner Hershaw, bow - Michael Thornton)
1 Washington 6:15.257
2 Wisconsin 6:17.344
3 California 6:20.029
4 Harvard 6:25.176
5 Brown 6:27.851
6 Navy 6:36.954
Men's Varsity Four
(coxswain - Seamus Labrum, stroke - Robert Squires, 3 - Garrett Rinden, 2 - Will Lytle, bow - Jeffrey Gibbs)
1 Washington 6:12.258
2 California 6:14.098
3 Brown 6:21.372
4 Northeastern 6:26.643
5 Georgetown 6:29.823
6 Navy 6:36.268
Men's Second Varsity Eight
(coxswain - Laura Denman, stroke - Max Mannisto, 7 - Julian Svoboda, 6 - Myles Neary, 5 - Patrick Marre, 4 - Beddome Allen, 3 - Ambrose Puttmann, 2 - Alan Meininghaus, bow - Jay Thompson)
1 Washington 5:31.616
2 Brown 5:33.872
3 Harvard 5:35.264
4 California 5:35.477
5 Wisconsin 5:35.938
6 Stanford 5:54.096
Men's Varsity Eight
(coxswain - Sam Ojserkism, stroke - Dusan Milovanovic, 7 - Alex Bunkers, 6 - Ryan Schroeder, 5 - Mijo Rudelj, 4 - Sebastian Peter, 3 - Sam Dommer, 2 - A.J. Brooks, bow - Robert Munn)
1 Washington 5:21.482
2 Brown 5:23.476
3 Harvard 5:24.658
4 California 5:29.497
5 Syracuse 5:32.861
6 BU 5:34.888