July 4, 2010
HENLEY-ON-THAMES, England - The dream season is complete.
After putting forth another dominant effort, the University of Washington freshman crew captured the Temple Cup trophy at the Henley Royal Regatta on Sunday with a thorough win over Amsterdamsche Studenten Roeivereeniging. The Huskies were 4 ½ length winners over their Dutch rivals, finishing in a time of 6:58.
This marks one of the greatest seasons a UW crew has ever achieved. In the undefeated run, the Grunties topped not only their Bay Area rivals in the Cal Dual, but subsequently captured a Pac-10 Championship, a National Championship at IRAs and now the Temple Cup at Henley, one of the most prestigious regattas the sport has to offer.
Washington has not won at Henley since a crew captured the Ladies' Plate Trophy in 2003. But never has the Temple Cup, a competition for rowers with limited experience, found a place on the trophy mantle at Conibear Shellhouse.
Afterward, freshman coach Luke McGee put the win into context. This one, he said, belongs up there in the pantheon.
"This is the first freshman (Washington) crew that has ever won here," McGee said. "Before the race, the guys and I chatted a bit. I told them you have 50 minutes until you make history. You look around our shellhouse and see boats like the 1936 boat that won in Berlin, and the boat that beat the Russians in Moscow, it's pretty special to be included with crews like that."
From the start of the race, the Huskies faced a stiff headwind on the course, making conditions painful for a 2,112-meter race on the River Thames. But Washington was able to take the lead early against Amsterdamsche Studenten Roeivereeniging, who had fired off the start. Even though the Huskies were racing for the fifth time in consecutive days, they had the fitness to hold off their competition.
"I'm glad we had gas in the tank," McGee said, before chuckling. "All those 3 x 20 minute pieces on the water in February meant something."
The five-day stretch is one of the most grueling tests in all of rowing. Not only are the crews taxed physically, but it's a mental grind to race one-on-one in tight quarters against another opponent. By the end of a race, crews look as if they've traded haymakers with a heavyweight boxer.
"It's a battle of wills," said men's coach Michael Callahan, who was in England to offer his support to the crew. "It's one-on-one racing. This isn't six boats like IRAs. It takes a lot out of the guys, but they're stronger for it going forward."
By the end, the Huskies had the support of the 20,000-person crowd in Oxfordshire, an atmosphere that often resembles a well-dressed cocktail party. Callahan described it as the "Wimbledon of rowing."
This year, the Grunties did not have close to the international accolades of their 2009 predecessors, who arrived on Montlake with rowers sporting Olympic experience. This crew was largely unheralded with several walk-ons, and as McGee put it, would never win the "eye test" on the docks. Yet the results were the same, as the boat continued to rack up one win after another. In the Grand Finals of the IRA, a slim victory over Cal brought home the program's second straight National Championship for the freshmen.
To cap the season with a win Henley is even more enjoyable.
"They're still in a daze," McGee said of his rowers. "They're on Cloud Nine."
There were other oarsmen with ties to Washington who won on Sunday. Giuseppe Lanzone and Brett Newlin won the Stewards Cup in a four with their boat from the Princeton Training Center. Another Husky, Kiel Petersen, won the Britannia Cup in a coxed four boat. Other Huskies to compete were current student-athletes Conlin McCabe and Anthony Jacob, along with former rower Rob Gibson, who all rowed for Shawnigan Lake & Victoria City out of British Columbia. Two other Canadian Huskies, David Calder and Will Crothers, fell to Princeton in the semifinals of the Stewards Cup on Saturday.