Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Southwest Junior District Championships Showcase Top Talent on West Coast–Nationals Next

The USRowing Southwest Junior District Championships (say that four times, fast) took place on Lake Natoma (just outside Sacramento, CA) over the weekend, and there were several crews who made quite an impression on us as they punched their tickets to the USRowing Youth National Championships next month. Among those crews were some familiar names, as Marin Rowing Association continues to field a high volume of very fast crews on both the men's and women's sides, but there were also some relative newcomers to the stage. Also, early season favorites Oakland Strokes saw their undefeated season end in the women's varsity eight by the narrowest of margins, with last year's national champion Marin taking the top spot on the podium, and setting up a great rivalry race in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Graham Willoughby's Marin men's varsity eight was, once again, dominant, taking the event by open water over the field, and continuing their unbeaten streak that began at the 2010 Head Of The Charles, when they won the men's junior eight event in record time despite having to start from 69th place. MRA crossed the line in a time of 6:07, roughly 11 seconds ahead of Long Beach Junior Crew (who have begun to emerge as another West Coast rowing force under former NAC and three-time USRowing youth national champion coach, Nick D'Antoni–more on that below) in silver medal position, followed by Los Gatos. As defending national champions, clearly, Marin will enter the fray in Tennessee as the favorites to win the men's varsity eight.

The women's varsity eight saw two contenders for the national championship going stroke for stroke all the way to the line, with the experience of Marin's crew paying off in the final stages to secure the victory over previously undefeated Oakland. In the end, MRA edged Oakland by less than 0.5 seconds, defending their Southwest Regional title and turning some heads following an early season that saw Oakland in dominant form, with a seven second victory over Connecticut Boat Club and MRA at Crew Classic in April. Oakland is the younger crew, so it will be interesting if the Strokes can bounce back from this race and use it to fuel their efforts in Oak Ridge, or whether Marin is, once again, finding the right kind of speed at exactly the right time under veteran head coach Sandy Armstrong.

The men's lightweight eight was another event that caught our attention, as last year's regional and national champions (you guessed it–Marin) were overtaken in the final 250 meters by a new-look lineup from Long Beach Juniors. The LBJC men were down nearly a length throughout the first 1000m, but battled back and fought their way into contention in the third 500m, eventually walking through Marin to take a 2.6 second victory over their Northern California rivals. The Long Beach Junior men accomplished this despite having had four of the lightweight eight double-up into the heavyweight eight the day before, and will look to be firing on all cylinders come time to race in Tennessee. The women's lightweight eight went to another talented crew from Oakland by a significant margin (the Strokes crossed in 7:08, roughly eight seconds up on second place Capital)–look for Oakland to challenge for a national title in that event as well, having taken second place last season.

For complete results, please visit the official website of USRowing.

-RR

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