BY CHIP DAVIS | PHOTO BY CHIP DAVIS
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UCLA’s men’s eight are club national champions after winning the 2023 American Collegiate Rowing Association National Championship Regatta, which was held in May on Melton Hill Lake in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The Bruins edged defending champion George Washington and third-place Notre Dame. Bowdoin won the women’s-eight grand final, ahead of Vanderbilt and UC Santa Barbara.
The ACRA national championships are open to all university and college club-rowing teams, and junior-college and community-college teams, both men and women, that are not eligible for the NCAA or IRA championships. It’s the largest and fastest-growing collegiate-championship regatta.
Quinn Klocke, a Notre Dame rowing alum who is now head coach, has witnessed the growth and development of ACRA first-hand, “We’ve seen some speed throughout the course of the whole year. There’s great competition.
“We have probably the hardest workers ever at Notre Dame. I’m very proud of the work they’ve put in. They’ve overcome a lot of adversity this spring and have earned it by working hard. I’m definitely pleased.”
Notre Dame finished third in the men’s-eight grand final, with last year’s champion George Washington University second. The Irish surprised the field by winning the Friday time trial that sets the field for the semifinals; there are now more entries than the three-day regatta can schedule into heats and repechages.
“I wasn’t overly surprised,” said Klocke, “We’ve seen some speed throughout the whole year. I trust these guys a lot.”
“This was a really challenging year, with injuries and illness,” said UCLA coach Marcel Stiffey, “but the crew managed to put it together when in counted. The last two and half months of training went really well.
“I knew that the boat had speed. We had very tough races throughout the year. UCSD, a Division 1 program, gave us a run for the money, and competing against that sort of program prepared us for this moment.”
The Bruins coach said he was “just excited for the guys.”
“I hope they feel they made memories that will last the rest of their lives.”
In the women’s club eight, Bowdoin College won the grand final. After trading victories with Middlebury in two April races—“The Big Three” (Bowdoin, Middlebury, and Amherst) and “The Rouge Three” (Bowdoin, Middlebury, and the University of Vermont)—Bowdoin won the best of three and club national championship in a close final. Vanderbilt, winners of the other semifinal, was second. UC Santa Barbara finished third, with Middlebury, Northwestern, and Vermont completing the grand final.
“Really close together the whole way,” said Bowdoin senior Meg Weinstock, of her crew’s victory, “and then really started to walk in the last few hundred meters. It was really exciting.”
Bowdoin also claimed victory in the men’s four, ahead of Grand Valley and Western Washington University. Florida Institute of Technology won the women’s four, with Orange Coast and Northwestern State second and third.
Vermont won the women’s second eight. Virginia claimed the men’s second eight, and Michigan won the men’s third eight.
Cole Hundelt of Virginia Commonwealth University won the mixed-adaptive-single final ahead of William Beardwood of Delaware and Aidan Perez of Gordon College.
College club crews from around the country drove to the ACRA championships, with Oak Ridge’s central location (FedEx and UPS have big distribution hubs in nearby Memphis and Louisville) a big driver of the soaring number of participants. The regatta also provides a modest travel stipend for West Coast crews. While it doesn’t equalize travel expenses for those crews, it acknowledges their greater costs and reflects the club-rowing ethos of everyone doing the best they can with what they’ve got. The atmosphere at the ACRA contest is lot less uptight than at other collegiate national-championship regattas, with many more smiles.
Virginia’s Reece Anderson won the women’s-single grand final, George Mason’s Victor Corja won the men’s single, an event featuring a petite final this year for the first time.
The national championship of college club crews (which operate as student organizations rather than varsity squads supported by the athletic department), ACRAs have grown larger than the NCAA and IRA national championships combined. This year’s regatta, ACRA’s largest ever, featured 1,754 athletes racing in 23 events. Entries, which doubled from 2008 to 2022, were up another 10 percent this year, with coxed fours seeing the greatest increase, from 160 to 315 in the top men’s and women’s fours.
“Considering Covid and everything else,” said regatta director Bob Jaugstetter, “these student-funded programs’ recovery from having no regatta for two years has been far more accelerated then we expected even in our wildest dreams.”
The regatta has seen the greatest growth in smaller boats, Jaugstetter said.
“Fours and the other small boats because we’re getting more small programs that hadn’t been coming before since it was very much an eights-focused regatta at first. hat’s a testament to the appeal of the sport.”
Athletes and organizers both like racing in Oak Ridge.
“It’s fantastic,” said Bowdoin’s Wienstock, “It’s beautiful here.”
“I’ve been here 50 times, 60 times, for regattas,” said Jaugstetter, “The course is excellent, there’s support from the locals, and the city actually seems to enjoy having people here. In another city that’s maybe larger, we’re sort of an afterthought; people don’t even know we’re around. But here, the businesses, the hotels, the restaurants are happy to have us, and it makes a big difference.”
University of Vermont coxswain Maddy Metcalf, having experienced a challenging four years owing to Covid, savored the culminating collegiate rowing experience of the ACRA regatta.
“It’s great! We drive from Burlington, so it’s like two days of eight hours in the car. It’s a lot warmer down here. When we left Burlington, there were [snow] flurries, so it’s awesome.”
Also at the regatta, All-Region teams and Regional Coaches of the Year were named. For men’s coaches, the honorees were Quinn Klocke, Notre Dame, Great Lakes Region; Nate Goodman, George Washington University, Mid-Atlantic Region; Tony Cronin, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Northeast Region; Andrew Grant, Washington University in St. Louis, Plains Region; Emmanuel Pagan, Vanderbilt University, South Region; and Marcel Stiffey, University of California, Los Angeles, West Coast Region.
Honored coaches of women’s crews included Doug Welling, Bowdoin College, Northeast Region; Elliot Lane, University of Colorado, Boulder, Plains Region; Jon Miller, Vanderbilt University, South Region; and Laura Behr, Orange Coast College, West Coast Region. The Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic regions did not have regional coaches of the year in 2023.