Early this summer, the three Yale crews wrapped up their seasons by competing at the national championships, bringing back two silvers to New Haven.
Despite being the favorites to secure national titles at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championships in early June, both the Yale heavyweight and lightweight first varsity boats ultimately fell short and finished second. A week earlier at the NCAA championships, the women’s crew finished 11th as a team, with the first varsity boat finishing second in the petite, or consolation, finale.
UNEXPECTED LOSS FOR HEAVYWEIGHTS
The Bulldog first varsity heavyweight boat arrived in Mercer Lake, New Jersey, as the near-unanimous No. 1 boat in the country, having received 10 out of the 11 first-place votes in the USRowing Collegiate poll. Prior to the IRAs, the Elis had also claimed the top ranking in eight out of the nine editions of the poll and were undefeated in spring season.
This record, however, did not translate into a national championship, as the Bulldogs fell to a strong University of California team by about two seconds in the grand finale. Yale started the championships on a good note by winning both its heat and its semifinal, but it trailed Cal from start to finish in the final race.
“The 1V was obviously disappointed to finish second at the IRAs,” captain Rob Hurn ’17, who inherited the captaincy from Hubert Trzybinski ’16 after last season, said. “This shows how far the squad has progressed, that Yale’s best IRA finish in living memory was considered an underperformance. Fortunately, we have seven guys from that boat returning to give it another try, and they will be joined by an incredibly strong freshman class that will no doubt push us all to perform at our best.”
The second varsity eight just missed out on racing in the grand finale when it placed fourth in its semifinal, but the Bulldogs won the petite finale, ahead of four Ivy League boats with a time of 5:53.44. The third varsity eight also raced in its petite finale and earned third place in that race. Yale also entered a varsity four boat, which ended up finishing fourth in the fourth finale.
The IRAs ended the collegiate seasons of most heavyweight teams, but the Bulldogs still had more racing to do at the annual Yale–Harvard Regatta, which Yale entered as a heavy favorite. In gusty Connecticut conditions, however, the race was deemed a no-contest when the Harvard boat started sinking and the Crimson rowers had to be rescued. This is the first time in the competition’s 151-year history that the race was not completed, though the Yale boat did complete the race in a record-slow time of 30 minutes and 41 seconds.
“For me personally, and I think for everyone present that day, the win belonged to Yale,” Hurn said. “We had beaten Harvard by significant margins in all previous races against them that year, and it [looked] like another Yale victory in the moments preceding their sinking. For the oarsmen returning, the only thing we can do is turn our focus to next year, and beat them enough for both years.”
LIGHTWEIGHTS MISS AN OPPORTUNITY
Like the Yale heavyweights, the Yale lightweight first varsity boat had also been ranked first in the nation for several weeks leading up to IRAs after an undefeated spring season.
However, in the grand finale, the 1V boat fell to Columbia, a team the Bulldogs had beaten twice in the spring, by 2.4 seconds. The Lions, which were ranked No. 2 for most of the spring, earned their first-ever national title with the win, while Yale missed out on a chance to win its first since 2011.
Earlier in the championships, Yale entered a coxed lightweight four, which finished fourth in the grand finale with a time of 6:52.41, more than 10 seconds behind winner Georgetown. Yale also raced a coxless four, which finished last in its initial heat but first out of two boats in the petite finale, ahead of Georgetown.
The Bulldogs then concluded their season across the Atlantic at the Henley Royal Regatta, where Yale again entered a coxed eight, a coxed four and a coxless four. At Henley, the bracket-like setup meant that all races were one on one, from the heats to the final.
The Bulldog varsity eight, competing in the Temple Challenge Cup, advanced to the semifinals by beating three different boats: one with students from Clare and Hughes Hall at the University of Cambridge, one from Nottingham Trent University and a third from Cornell. In the semifinal, however, the Bulldogs fell to Oxford Brookes University by just under two boat lengths.
Yale’s other entries had less success. Racing in the Prince Albert Challenge Cup, the Bulldog coxed four defeated University of St. Andrews before losing to Newcastle by over two lengths. In the Visitors’ Challenge Cup, the coxless four lost by wide margin to Cal.
“The entire Henley squad was over there in force, and I was proud of our entire team and how they represented Old Eli,” head coach Andy Card said. “We advanced the furthest of any lightweight crew in the Temple Cup, and we had a hell of a time doing it … All three entries had seniors in the stroke seat, and the ’16s left their positive mark on the program for sure to the very last stroke.”
Still, despite the loss of the class of 2016, new captain Noah Baily ’17 was optimistic for the season ahead. He cited the team’s depth as reason to believe Yale could replicate and improve upon last season’s successes.
“We are returning 11 seniors this year, and our underclassmen are an even greater force to be reckoned with,” Bailey said. “We feel the loss of 2016, but last year was last year, and this year is this year. We’ll continue to hold ourselves to the very highest standard and build even further upon our results.”
ELEVENTH PLACE FOR WOMEN’S CREW
At the NCAA Championships in Rancho Cordova, California, the highlight of the Yale women’s crew’s performance was a win in the petite finale of the varsity four event.
Having lost just once all season, the varsity four started strong by winning its heat and besting Brown, the one team to which the Bulldogs had lost. Yale narrowly missed out on a place in the grand finale by finishing fourth in the semifinals, 1.427 seconds behind Stanford, but came back strong in the petite finale. The Bulldogs won the race by more than two seconds, over Princeton, Texas, Brown, Wisconsin and Indiana.
In its heat, the first varsity eight came in third behind Stanford and Michigan and advanced to the C/D semifinal, where the boat placed second with a time of 6:30.024, less than a second behind Gonzaga, to advance to the C final. In that race, the Bulldogs placed third, which Washington State taking first and Gonzaga second. Yale’s second varsity boat earned a spot in the A/B semifinal, where it rowed to fourth, more than 11 seconds behind eventual winners California.
“Next year we hope to build off our 11th place ranking from this year’s NCAAs,” captain Kate O’Brien ’17, who succeeded Colleen Maher ’16 for the 2016–2017 season, said. “The standard of female collegiate rowing seems to be rising each year, so the ultimate goal is for YWC to rise with this standard while keeping with our positive attitude and love for what we do.”
Like its men’s heavyweight counterpart, the Cal women’s crew won the national title.