Oct. 21, 2011
SEATTLE - Few courses challenge rowers and coxswains like the windy, meandering Charles River in Boston. Yet in order to test themselves against the nation's best competition, the Washington men's crew program is heading across the country to compete in the Head of the Charles on Sunday, one of the most prestigious regattas the sport offers.
While the Huskies are the defending champions, the uncertainties are there with a varsity eight crew attempting to fill some holes. During the weeks leading up to the competition, men's coach Michael Callahan said he impressed upon his team the opportunity awaiting the Huskies back east. The goal, as always, is to win, but Callahan also wants a barometer of where his team is coming off a National Championship.
"I think it's fun to see who we are right now," Callahan said. "We'll test the temperature of the oil, so to speak, and see what we need to do going forward." This year's edition of the Head of the Charles will be streamed live at www.hocr.org from the rooftop of the Cambridge Club. GoHuskies.com will have a full recap following the race, which begins at 11:45 p.m. PT.
Awaiting the Huskies in Boston on the 3.1 mile course will be the IRA silver medalist Harvard, the only crew to defeat Washington last year. The Crimson has the advantage of racing on their home course, which features a multitude of tight turns that often vex coxswains unfamiliar with the river's layout. Archrival California will also be traveling to Boston fresh off a victory at the Head of the Oklahoma.
As the defending champion, the Huskies have the honor of going first. The rest of the crews will be sent off incrementally.
Callahan is bringing a lineup featuring both experienced oarsmen and talented varsity newcomers, but one that is markedly different from the one that won an IRA gold medal last June. The lineup, from coxswain to bow, is Sam Ojserkis, Mathis Jessen, Tom Lehmann, Ambrose Puttmann, Robert Munn, Dusan Milovanovic, Mijo Rudelj, A.J. Brooks and Alex Bunkers.
For the Huskies, this trip is another step on the development cycle the program emphasizes on a daily basis at Conibear Shellhouse. But the fifth-year coach also acknowledges the team has some considerable ground to cover heading into the spring sprint season. Rowers new to the boat also have to accept the responsibility - and burden - that comes with competing in the varsity flagship.
"We have a lot of people in different positions now. This is their opportunity," Callahan said. "Some guys have had success the past couple of years in the freshmen boat and the 2V8. They'll need to bring their best effort on Sunday. It's the big boat now. They have to carry the flag for Washington."
While in Boston, the Huskies enjoy a tremendous amount of alumni and fan support. The Head of the Charles annually attracts upwards of 300,000 spectators along the river, and Washington always brings one of the bigger fan sections. Callahan said it was good to catch up with alumni who live in the area, such as Charlie Clapp and Michelle Darby, a Massachusetts native and former coxswain who won an IRA medal in the 2V8 last summer. The coach also noted how one of the event's title sponsors (Delta Airlines) created banners featuring the Husky crew teams of old.