Yesterday, we looked at the Cal women's crew team, which won the Pac-12 Championship last Sunday at Lake Natoma, near Sacramento. Today it's time to look at Cal men's crew. The #4 ranked Cal men's team knew they had a mountain to climb to defeat #1 ranked, and perennial rival, Washington. (For more on the history of the Cal-Washington crew rivalry, and the spectacular history of Cal crew, click here.) The Huskies had just swept the young Bears team at Redwood Shores on April 21, and were heavily favored to sweep the Pac-12 championships. On the other hand, the Bears were coming off a sweep of #8 ranked Stanford at The Big Row on April 28 (giving the Bears a 61-18 lead in that series all-time), and were hoping for the upset. Alas, it was not to be. But what is noteworthy for Cal fans in watching the videos of the races (and there are lots of videos!) is how elite Washington and California are, in a conference that has several very good crew teams. While the Huskies were the strongest team last weekend, the Bears finished second in every race, and are the only team in the conference able to pose any challenge to Washington.
Cal's Varsity 8 battle for the Pac-12 Championship.
Follow me after the jump for tons of video and photos from the first-ever Pac-12 Men's Rowing Championships.
Before we get to the racing, let's take a look at the layout and atmosphere of these championships. Although the men's and women's championships are entirely separate, they are held on the same day, at the same location. The day started with the men's Novice 8 race, followed by the women's Novice 8 race, then came the men's Varsity 4, followed by the women's Varsity 4, and the two championships continued to alternate races throughout the morning.
The Pac-12 holds its crew championships at the beautiful Sacramento State Aquatic Center on Lake Natoma in Gold River, a few miles east of Sacramento.
And it was a gorgeous morning for the races, with the highs for the day in the upper 70s.
There were eight schools participating in the championships: #1 Washington, #4 California, #8 Stanford, #20 Oregon State, USC, UCLA, Washington State, and Colorado. As you would expect from a sporting event that is called a "regatta," going to crew races is a little different than going to a football or basketball game. For example, it is traditional for each school to have a hospitality tent along the shore line, where food and drink is available to their athletes, families, and friends.
The Cal tent, looking very inviting for Blue and Gold fans.
And inside the Cal tent, there was a nice spread of goodies.
But there was no question that the most extravagant hospitality tent belonged to the University of Southern California, which had flowers and china and table cloths. They even blew Stanford away in the fancy tent competition. (Although unfounded rumors have it that the NCAA is investigating that competition, leaving the Trojans facing the horrible specter of NCAA-imposed hot dogs and paper plates next year.)
The USC tent, filled with extravagances like chafing dishes and non-paper plates.
The spectators include lots of family and friends of the rowers, local rowing enthusiasts, including high school students who are hoping to row in college, and local alumni of the participating schools, like yours truly, who are out for a pleasant morning cheering their team on. There was a large and vocal UCLA contingent and a surprisingly large number of Washington State fans. And I think I have found the previously undisclosed location of all those Stanford fans who are MIA at football games -- they go to crew regattas instead! (I guess I should have expected this.) I even spoke with a local Colorado alum, who is still not sure about the move to the Pac-12, but was there to cheer on the two boats entered into the championships by his alma mater.
But, on to the races. As I mentioned, the first race of the day was the men's Novice 8, which is an 8-oared boat with first-year rowers. This was expected to be Cal's strongest event, and it did turn out to be the closest race of the day. (And let me apologize in advance that the video is not as smooth as I would like. I have a brand new fancy camera, and this was its first outing. I think the video got steadier as the day went on.)
What is most striking about watching this race was the huge gap between the first two finishers, Washington and California, and everybody else. Washington beat Cal by about three seconds. But third place OSU finished 24 seconds after Cal. And the final boat, Colorado, finished 1:25 after Cal. The finish: (1) Washington; (2) California; (3) OSU; (4) Stanford; (5) WSU; (6) USC; and (7) Colorado.
Next up was the Varsity 4. It was Washington's biggest win of the day, with the Huskies finishing just over 9 seconds ahead of the second-place Bears. But, once again, the gap was even bigger between Cal and the third place finisher.
The finish in the Varsity 4: (1) Washington; (2) California; (3) OSU; (4) WSU; (5) USC. For some reason, Stanford did not have a boat in the race. (Did I hear someone say "forfeit"?)
The third race of the day was the men's Second Varsity 8 (as the name suggests, each school's second-strongest 8-oar boat). Only four schools entered a boat in this race -- the four nationally ranked programs in the conference.
Once again, the Bears finished in second place, well ahead of third place Stanford. The finish: (1) Washington; (2) California; (3) Stanford; (4) OSU.
The final race of the day was the men's Varsity 8. This is the big race, worth 32 points to the winner, as opposed to 16 points each for the Second Varsity 8 and the Novice 8, and 8 points for the Varsity 4. The Bears still had a mathematical chance of winning the title, but for the Bears to overcome Washington's lead in points, not only would the Bears have had to win the race, but the Huskies would have had to finish third or lower. And that seemed very unlikely. The Huskies took away any suspense by winning their fourth race of the day.
The finish: (1) Washington; (2) California; (3) Stanford; (4) OSU; (5) UCLA; (6) WSU; (7) Colorado. This, of course, gave the championship to the Huskies, as the final point totals on the day were: Washington 72, California 63, Stanford 49, OSU 48, WSU 25, UCLA 16, Colorado 12, USC 10.
The Huskies had a great day. But the Bears will get another crack at them at the IRA National Championships in New Jersey at the end of May. And the Bears have a lot to celebrate, with head coach Mike Teti heading to London this summer as an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic team, and former Cal coxswain Zach Vlahos having recently been named to the U.S. Olympic Men's 8 boat. Also, the Bears beat Stanford in every race of the day (except the one Stanford didn't row in), and that is always a cause for celebration.
On the way out of the Aquatic Center, we noticed the trailers loaded up with the shells for the trip home.
This reminded me that Cal crew has come a very long way from those early years when the hardest part of the regatta was just figuring out a way to get the boat from Berkeley to the Oakland estuary.
(I had to find a way to get at least one grainy black-and-white photo into this post!)
Congratulations to the 2012 Cal Men's Crew Team for their second place finish in the Pac-12 Championships, and good luck to them in the National Championships!