Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The 2015 WIRA Championships: UC Irvine, Stanford Top Varsity Fields

UC Irvine launches for the final (Photo courtesy of A.J. Brooks)
The UC Irvine men and Stanford women continued their recent run of success at WIRAs over the weekend, with the Anteaters taking first place in the men's varsity eight (just as they did in 2013), while the Cardinal swept all three eights events they entered. For both programs, however, it has also been a year of adjustments, as newly appointed head coach Derek Byrnes took the reins in Palo Alto last October, and UCI's A.J. Brooks is in his first year as head coach. But you wouldn't know it from the margin of victory, in either case.

"We came back with about nine guys total for the returning varsity," Brooks explains, "and we're ending WIRAs now with four eights worth of guys [including a JV and two novice eights]." Not only have Brooks and the Anteaters built the program, they've built momentum through the course of the season—at Crew Classic, they saw their Southern California rivals UC Santa Barbara sprint to victory in the men's Cal Cup, while UCI finished a close fourth overall. "Some seniors are graduating, but we've got some young freshmen with big goals in mind coming into the program, which is great." Like most club rowing programs, none of the athletes have any previous rowing experience, but the year's hard work, guided by Brooks (a four-time IRA champion with the University of Washington) is already paying off—the Anteaters defeated varsity and club crews alike en route to victory on Lake Natoma.



"The building blocks have been there all year. I really push the bottom-up mentality—for the varsity to be fast, the second novice [eight] had to be fast; the first novice had to be fast; the JV had to be fast. We're really striving to try to build big-program speed, and I think that everyone had a big part to play in terms of the early season in San Diego—everyone showing up and being really attentive, really taking care of business down there. I think it gave the varsity the right kind of momentum," he says. "Going into this race, we were very ready to compete—very ready to show our speed." It was also a good way to bring the new recruits into the fold: "It shows that it is possible, that it can be done."

The victory vaulted UCI to no. 4 in the RowingRelated ACRA rankings this week, leap-frogging UC Santa Barbara. No doubt program founder and Olympic champion Duvall Hecht is suitably pleased.

On the women's side, it was a clean sweep for a Stanford lightweight program that has come back from a bit of a slow start at the Head Of The Charles to the top of their game so far in 2015—the Cardinal got things going in San Diego with their fifth straight victory over a field that included a tough Boston University squad, and haven't looked back since. Stanford made the trip east once again this year to Boston to take on Radcliffe, and this time emerged on top, before heading to Sacramento and taking on the WIRA field.

And, the results were the same—taking on an open weight field, the Stanford lightweights took home the varsity eight title by roughly a length over the field, with LMU, Saint Mary's, and Sacramento State tightly packed behind them. The JV eight again saw the Cardinal finish ahead of the pack, though by a slightly narrower margin of two seconds, while the frosh eked out a close win just one second in front of the University of San Diego.

You can read more about the Stanford experience of the 2015 WIRA Regatta via the official website of Stanford Athletics. And keep up to date on the UCI men's program via their Facebook page.

-RR

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