NCAA Rowing and IRA National Championships, 2014: Recap and Review

Washington leads the way in the men's varsity eight

Last weekend marked the culmination of a year's worth of work—the showdown between the best of the best to determine the men's and women's national champions—and while there was some reshuffling of the ranks, familiar faces topped the podium once again in 2014. That said, there were some newly crowned champions this year, who greatly deserve recognition. We've had a few days to let it soak in, so now, without further ado, here's our take on the 2014 championship season.

Last year, Andy Teitelbaum's Ohio State Buckeyes won their first national title as a team. Not only did that add significant plume to Teitelbaum's already heavily feathered cap, but also it marked a transition in the mentality of the program—it might sound simple, but the Buckeyes learned how to win. And, evidently, they learned that lesson pretty damn well. It's no surprise that Ohio State found themselves in a position to win again this year, but taking into account the ever-increasing level of performance in NCAA Rowing, as well as the parity among the top teams, a repeat victory begins to look appropriately impressive. As if that weren't enough, the Buckeyes capped it all off with a varsity eight title that they earned with a walkaway performance, edging out gradually to a length over the otherwise tightly packed field.

Taking second overall in the team standings, and winning the varsity four, was California (our preseason No. 2). The Golden Bears had another very strong team this year, and were edged into third place by less than one tenth of a second by Brown in the varsity eight—still the Bears from the West managed to hold off the Bears from the East in the overall standings, with Brown finishing third. Rounding out the top five were Stanford and Virginia (our preseason No. 1), with the Cardinal riding a wave of momentum from a Pac-12 win into Indianapolis—they performed very well, and were one of three teams to send all three boats to the grand finals (along with Brown and Cal). One of the highlights of the regatta at the Division I level was the performance of Indiana—the Hoosiers, led by head coach Steve Peterson, moved up the rankings throughout the season to find themselves at No. 11 when all was said and done. Hats off to the home-state crew.

At the DII level, the Jacks made it two victories in three years, winning the title with a decisive varsity eight victory (and getting a little help from last year's champions Nova Southeastern, who by edging Western Washington by 0.062 seconds sealed the deal for Humboldt State. Meanwhile, Division III saw its first new champion crowned since 2006, as Trinity knocked off defending national champion Williams as well as No. 1-seed Bates en route to victory. Congrats to head coach Wesley Ng and the whole Bantam squad for a terrific performance in Indianapolis.

While we thought that this might just be the year for California (our preseason No. 1)to end the Huskies' streak of victories at the national level, Washington (RR preseason No. 3) once again proved that the machine is humming along on all cylinders. California made it interesting, however, as did Brown (our preseason No. 4)—in fact, all three of these teams medaled in every event, with the exception of the Brown men's second varsity eight (they finished fourth). As the day wore on, and the Golden Bears racked up victories in the second and third varsity eights, the stage was set for an epic showdown in the marquee event. And that's where Washington really showed their class.

The Huskies shot out of the gates with Cal, and much like the German men's eight that dominated the last quadrennium, they kept the pedal to the metal throughout the second 500m, taking complete control of the race. And, as you can see from the photo above, they never looked back (or, rather, they got to spend the whole second half of the race looking back at their competition, but you get the point). The Ten Eyck, however, was very close—Washington retained the trophy for a record eighth straight time, but the margin was 192 points to Cal's 188 this year.

The victory for the Huskies in the men's varsity eight was their fourth straight, and fifth in the last six years—a level of dominance at the IRA Regatta that hasn't been seen since Cornell won five of six from 1901-1907 (Syracuse won in 1904 and 1908, and then Big Red rattled off four straight again from '09-'12). Harvard, the champion of Eastern Sprints and our preseason No. 2, faded to fifth overall, while Yale, just as we indicated in November, did indeed make the grand final this year.

Turning our attention to the lightweights, suffice it to say that it was a good day to be a Harvard student. On the women's side, Radcliffe pulled off an epic comeback against four-time champion Stanford, edging the Cardinal by roughly a deck after being down by seven seats well into the second half of the race (video of the sprint here). Congrats to new head coach Lou Berl, who has not only come in and continued the momentum of the program, but also taken it to the promised land in her first season at the helm. And, not to be ignored was Bucknell—the Bison, like the Black and White, came storming back in the last 500m and took a very close third place.

The men's lightweight eight was equally exciting—while the favorites from Cornell took the lead early and often, again it was a Harvard sprint that made for a very exciting finish. Big Red was able to hold off the hard charging Crimson at the line by roughly 0.5 seconds—an excellent result for a Harvard (our preseason No. 3) crew that had found itself, perhaps unexpectedly, short of podium appearances earlier this season. Congrats to Chris Kerber and the whole team at Cornell for a great year, harkening back to the days of Big Red dominance from 2006-2008.

So there you have it—another year of great racing, close finishes, and impressive team performances at the collegiate level. Stay tuned for more on the best of the best later this summer when we award those most prestigious of (virtual) rowing trophies, the RoRys, to the top teams, athletes, and races of the 2013-2014 season.


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