BY CHIP DAVIS | PHOTO BY LISA WORTHY
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The Cal Golden Bears won the varsity four, third varsity eight, second varsity eight, varsity eight, and Ten Eyck points trophy. Washington challenged Cal in the national championship varsity eights race, pushing the Bears in the last 500 meters, but Cal held on for the victory in 5:31.7.
“Honestly, for the first time all year, we had to go through our full race and really step it up. The Huskies were moving. And we pushed back,” said Cal coach Scott Frandsen. “We had the guts in that moment of intense duress, of who’s tougher. Those guys pushed out and decided that they were going to win the race right there.”
Washington coach Mike Callahan enjoyed seeing his young crew in contention for the national championship.
“A real dog fight out there, you know? Dawgs versus Bears. It was such a strong, deep field this year, and so many raised the level across many universities. And I think this team did the same. These guys made a lot of right choices along the way and did a lot of good work; so happy that we got a result today. We’re in the fight. And California is also an outstanding crew and deserved the win, and they did a great job.”
Washington celebrated the 100th anniversary of their first IRA win this year. Coming off of a relatively disappointing performance last year, when the Huskies finished fourth, more than eight seconds back of Cal, silver medals in the national championship with a young crew exceeded expectations.
“We don’t rise to our expectations. We fall the level of our training. We had really awesome training all this year. It’s just really a pleasure to coach these guys every step of the way. So I’m really happy they got a lot of medals, and hats off to California’s outstanding crew.”
It wasn’t just Cal’s varsity or even just the top three eights that were the fastest in the country this year. Frandsen credits an entire—and large—program of athletes with the wins.
“It’s just such a proud statement of where the team’s at. We’ve been trying to build depth and build this unity through all levels of the team. And wow, to come and sweep the IRA, that’s unbelievable. It’s a credit to everybody racing here and a credit to the two and a half, three eights of guys that aren’t here. They’re a huge part of this. The results that we’ve got today are the outward showing of that. We just have a great team right now.”
Cal’s second varsity eight won their grand final, also over second-place Washington, who pipped Eastern Sprints-winning Harvard by less than a quarter-second.
“Second boat, just a perfect race,” said Frandsen. “So proud of those guys and so happy for all of them. There have been some guys in that eight that have been working towards this for three or four years.”
Princeton’s lightweights—men and women—had a historically victorious regatta, winning five grand finals on Sunday, both national championships, and both team points trophies. The day started with Amelia Boehle and Kasey Shasthay winning the women’s lightweight varsity double, the lone sculling event at the IRA. The crew followed an undefeated 2022 campaign with another IRA national championship this year. The Tiger’s women’s lightweight four won the following final, and then a few races later, the lightweight men’s second eight won theirs.
The varsity lightweight women’s eight led the entire race, finishing with an open water margin over Stanford in and Georgetown seconds further back in third.
“We were obviously coming in as the favorites, and there’s a lot of pressure that comes with that, but we really had a composed race, and we were confident but also ready to attack,” said junior Kalena Blake. “We approached the race in a really mature way. We have a lot of seniors, and that maturity really showed.”
The win marks Princeton’s third consecutive IRA lightweight women’s national championship. The Tiger varsity has not lost to another lightweight boat since the 2019 IRA.
The Princeton men’s lightweight victory made it only the second time ever that the same school has won both lightweight national championships in the same year after Harvard/Radcliffe did so in 1997.
“There are six scullers in there,” said Princeton lightweight coach Marty Crotty after the race. “And all year, they rowed differently, they moved differently. But on the recovery, they all moved the same and they let the boat run. Their poise was evident today. They’re rowing 38 and a half and it looked like 34. But they row like scullers on the recovery. It’s amazing. I set out in the first couple of weeks of September. I said, ‘I’ve got to change this body, and these legs,’ And then I just saw how the boat ran, and I said, ‘I’m not changing anything.’ Let’s just get them in a boat and just watch them gel.”
Long-time former Princeton lightweight coach Joe Murtaugh, widely regarded as one of the sports “good guys,” gave Crotty a congratulatory hug as the Tigers crossed the finish line.
“How great is it to celebrate with Joe Murtaugh?” said Crotty. “He knows how hard this is to do.”
Harvard finished less than two seconds back for the silver, with Penn a little more than a second behind them for the bronze. Navy finished fourth, four-tenths of second out of the medals. Cornell and Yale rounded out the grand final. Dartmouth won the petite final over MIT.
On Saturday, the regatta’s second day, Williams College won the men’s Division III national championship varsity eight race, as well as the inaugural second-varsity championship. (All of the national championships at the IRA are determined by the varsity eights races; other grand final races are simply IRA championships races.)
The Ephs led the DIII national champion final early, rowing cleanly in a tough headwind that challenged everyone and led to significant race schedule shuffling throughout the regatta. Wesleyan pressed throughout the race after recovering quickly from a crab early in the race. But it was all Williams, even as Trinity made a bid from the other side of the course in lane seven and Bates, along with Tufts, charged at the halfway mark. Williams extended their lead to open water in the third 500 and Wesleyan held off Bates at the line.
Friday’s environmental conditions bordered on the dangerous as the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection issued a “Code Orange” for air quality due to ground-level ozone and smoke from wildfires in southern New Jersey.
The compression of the racing schedule into starts every eight minutes made great spectating for the record crowd, a change that, according to commissioner Gary Caldwell, may become a permanent improvement for the 128-year-old regatta.