Crew wins national champs

While most Yalies were already basking in the glow of summer vacation, the men’s varsity lightweight crew team was practicing harder than ever. And while the summer may not have been as fun as lounging in the Hamptons or backpacking in Patagonia, it was far more rewarding.

On Saturday, June 4, the team rowed its way to a National Championship — its third in six years — and won a trip to the famous Henley Royal Regatta in London, where the Bulldogs would take second place in the Temple Challenge Cup final. Not bad for a crew that looked like it might not even crack the Ivy top three earlier this spring.

On April 2, Navy torpedoed Yale in the first race of the spring, winning all four contests between the two squads in Mercer County, N.J.. The team realized something needed to be done.

“We came out to the boathouse every day with the resolve to improve ourselves, and had a determination to avenge our losses,” David Werner ’06 said. “We always knew that we had room for improvement.”

The Elis made some adjustments and returned to New Haven for a two-race homestand. The Bulldogs defeated MIT and Boston College on April 9, and then sunk Penn and Columbia the following weekend. The next day, after a long trek to Ithaca, NY, the Elis fell to Cornell, breaking their winning streak.

The Bulldogs picked up another victory April 23 — this time over Dartmouth and Rutgers in Hanover, NH — before heading to Cambridge, Mass., where the Cantabs edged the Elis by 2.4 seconds to take the Goldthwait Cup on the Charles River.

The Bulldogs faced Harvard again the next time out, along with a slew of other crews at the championship-level EARC Sprints May 15. The Elis and the Cantabs were very close for most of the race in Worcester, Mass., but in the end, Harvard (5:40.567) edged Yale (5:40.791) by less than a quarter of a second.

The loss caused the Elis to push themselves even harder in the weeks leading up to the IRA National Championship.

“Whenever you lose a race to anyone, it motivates you to work harder for the next one,” captain Joe Fallon ’06 said. “There was definitely a feeling of urgency which lead to an increased focus on the small things. There were three weeks between the two championship races and you have no idea what the other teams are doing and how much speed they will pick up. We just focused on going as fast as we could.”

Over the next twenty days, the Elis did exactly that. Despite conflicts related to graduation and the end of school, the Bulldogs continued to train hard for the IRAs.

“The Class of 2005 did a great job of balancing the hoo-hah of graduation with the necessities of training,” head coach Andy Card said.

On June 4, the Elis traveled to Camden, N.J., for the IRA National Championship. They won the race in rare wire-to-wire fashion, holding the lead for the duration of the contest.

Werner said the Elis owed their success to their never-ending search for improvement.

“The team never gave up in search of more speed,” Werner said. “We were never content with what we had, always striving to better our skills.”

With the win, the Bulldogs gained a berth at the Henley Royal Regatta on the Thames River in London. Upon their arrival in England, the Elis motored past Bristol University by three lengths in the first round.

The Bulldogs then topped Nottingham, Glasgow and University of Western England in the second, third and fourth rounds, respectively, setting up a showdown with the heavyweight crew from Trinity College (Hartford) in the finals.

The Bantams proved too strong for the Elis in the end. Although Yale got off to an early lead, Trinity recovered and ended up winning the race by three lengths. Still, for the Elis to make it as far as they did was a spectacular feat. Yale was just the third lightweight crew in 15 years (and the second Yale lightweight crew in the competition’s history) to make the finals.

“We [came] a long way over the course of last season,” Card said. “What got us to Henley was the same thing that made us have a great Henley run: focus on the task at hand … and a great bunch of guys who really liked rowing with each other.”

Fallon praised the team for staying disciplined at a time when it could have easily strayed.

“A lot of times a trip to Henley to celebrate a winning season leads to a pseudo-vacation where rowing comes second,” Fallon said. “I think that we did well because we kept rowing as our top priority.”

The Bulldogs should be a force to be reckoned with once again this season. The fall season, which is much more laid back than the spring season, should give the Elis some time to further hone their skills.

“I’d like to see us finish in the front of the pack at the Head of the Charles and the Princeton Chase,” Fallon said. “But fall results aren’t really indicative of boat speed come springtime.”

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