June 4, 2011
CHERRY HILL, N.J. - All season long at Conibear Shellhouse, the Huskies had the sting of 2010 on their thoughts. Whenever the effort was not up to par, the upperclassmen would shout out "point two six," the margin of victory California had over the Huskies in last year's varsity eight grand final.
Message received, and then some.
Washington men's crew program won its fourteenth National Championship in school history on Saturday, throwing down a dominating effort on the 2,000-meter course on the Cooper River. The Huskies won both four events, the second varsity eight and most importantly, the varsity eight. The latter is the race used to determine the best and fastest crew in the nation, and in 2011 it was the Huskies. Equally as impressive: Washington won its fifth straight Ten Eyck Cup, the award given to the team champions who perform the best across all races.
"We wanted to be champions this year," said men's coach Michael Callahan, who has now won two titles in his four years at UW. "Everyone on the team was committed to that today and you saw it in the fours and the eights."
Heading into the last race of the afternoon in Cherry Hill, Callahan noted his team needed to have a phenomenal effort to unseat the other crews in the race. Despite coming into the IRA Championships as the No. 1 team, the Huskies fell in the semifinals to Harvard, and thus had to race the varsity eight final in Lane 2, away from the favored lanes of four and five, which went to Harvard and California.
Disadvantages aside, the Huskies pushed the tempo from the onset. The boat quickly took a lead heading into the first 500, with Brown chasing. California and Harvard were in a trail pack following closely behind. Control of the race was seized in the second 500, where the Dawgs used a powerful move to turn the slim lead into almost a boat length. Harvard had now shifted positions to second, and the Crimson picked up their rate to stem the bleeding. Now the race was down to two boats and the Huskies were not about to give way. Washington rowed away from Harvard, winning the National Championship with a time of 5:30.623.
"I woke up this morning with butterflies because I knew four years of hard work was coming down to today," said senior Ty Otto, who rows five seat in the varsity eight. "This was my last race and there was a lot of expectations ... We knew we had the skills to get it done."
The Open 4+ began the morning with a comfortable win in the Grand Final. Victory brought a historic moment for 3-seat Niles Garratt, who joined the elite club of Husky oarsmen who have won IRA gold medals four times. Garratt, coincidentally, has won all his medals in four-oared boats. Washington started with a strong push, edging past Wisconsin and Drexel. By the 500-meter mark, the Huskies had taken a full deck lead. Despite understroking their competitors, the Huskies were able to extend their lead at the 1,000 to almost a length. From there, the Huskies continued to parry away charges from the Dragons and the Badgers before crossing the finish line two lengths ahead.
Washington made it 2-for-2 in the fours when the Varsity 4+ blitzed the field for a wire-to-wire victory. Wisconsin's four exploded off the start, rowing at an unfathomable 49 strokes per minute. The Huskies quickly corralled the Badgers, and moved through them to take the lead. Not letting up, the Dawgs made another move at the 1,000 to extend the lead to open water. A frantic charge from Brown in the race's waning moments shaved off some time from the Huskies' winning margin, but it was a gold-medal performance nonetheless. After crossing the finish line, 3-seat Bede Clarke pumped his fist while coxswain Seamus Labrum raised his arms in celebration. The win for Clarke was significant, given his struggles in returning from a debilitating hip injury.
The Huskies took silver in the freshmen eight final, but not without an outstanding effort in the final 800 meters. Heavily favored California opened with a slim lead, with Harvard and the Huskies trailing by a few seats. The Golden Bears continued to hammer out a bigger margin in base pace, and although Harvard couldn't reel in Cal, they were gaining seats on Washington. The Crimson had a five-seat lead over the Huskies with 800 meters to go when the "kitchen-sink" sprint was called. At that moment, the Huskies threw everything they had onto the oar, rowing through Harvard to capture the silver medal.
"We definitely had our best performance in the final," said frosh coach Luke McGee, who has two golds and two silvers on his resume at Washington. "We knew Cal was going to jump out early, which they were able to do, and we had to minimize it." The mantra to the Huskies the night before was not to be scared to row through people. In previous years, the Grunties had often had the luxury of rowing with the lead. Facing a host of fast crews in the Grand Finals, the Huskies were going to have to be smart, take advantage of moves and empty the tank.
"In this boat, we had to be okay with that fact that we were going to have to row people down," McGee said. "I think they did great. This was definitely our best race of the year."
Another gold medal went to the Huskies in the second varsity eight, a race the program has dominated in recent years. The Kennedy Cup win was the fifth straight for Washington, and the seventh in eight years. Washington held a lead the entire way down, but not without a valiant push by Harvard in the final 600 meters. Down by a length, the Crimson closed the gap and raised a few lumps in the throats of the Huskies' supporters. But the Dawgs held off their pursuers and after crossing the finish line in a time of 5:36.969 stroke Dusan Milovanovic let out a primal scream. It was a similar reaction to the varsity eight members who crossed first in the final race. Hans Struzyna threw up his arms in victory, setting off a purple-and-gold fete among the fans on the sides of the river.
For a group who had refused to celebrate wins during the regular season, this was their moment.