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3rd place finishes for Cal Men’s Rowing at IRA Championships (include a chat with Calympian Natan W-S)

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Perennial national championship contenders California Golden Bears will have to wait for national title No.18.

Cal V8+ boat crew and their Bronze medals.
Cal Men’s Rowing Twitter

With the competition scheduled changed on Saturday due to the inclement weather, the Sunday championship finals for the 2018 IRA Championships had the inverted schedule of the main race of the Men’s Varsity Eight Heavyweight (V8+) Grand Final as the first event at 7:30 AM locally. Even though there was no rain, a significant head wind and fairly choppy water were present for the couple hours of racing on Sunday from Lake Mercer in West Windsor, New Jersey (few miles from the US Rowing head quarter in Princeton, NJ).

You can rewatch all of Sunday’s races (and the award ceremonies) in the embedded YouTube video below.

In the IRA Championships, the main national title goes to the winner of the V8+ race. That’s an event that has been won 17 times in the long history of Cal Men’s Crew (or Men’s Rowing as it has been rebranded/listed to be more consistent with how the women’s sports in named under NCAA). While the first half of decade has been dominated by the Washington Huskies, California Golden Bears were able to break through in 2016 (with about half of the boat this year being on that crew). Last year, Yale Bulldogs surprised the rowing world with a close win over Washington; Cal finished a very disappointing 5th (off the podium and not getting any medals).

The biggest trophy at the IRA Championship is for the Men’s V8+ winners. That trophy is larger than the plaque for the team points winner.

This year in “rough conditions”, as described to me by senior and 2016 Rio Polish Calympian Natan Wegrzycki-Szymczyk after the race, the Cal Bears were retroactively rather “disappointed about the semifinals yesterday because it determined the lane” for the Sunday Grand finals. With a 3rd place finish in the semifinal on Saturday, Golden Bears are on the outside, a couple of lanes away from the other two man contenders in Washington and Yale. There were clearly some luck involved as the various lanes experience different kind of water condition. After a close 3 team race for the first 250 meter (of a 2000 meter long race), Cal was the first one to fall off. Just like last year, Yale managed to hold off Washington for their 2nd consecutive IRA title - and only the 2nd time in their long history. Cal “which did everything that they could” finished 3rd ahead of Harvard, Princeton, and Brown for the last spot on the podium.

Yale is of course coached by former Cal Men’s Rowing head coach who also doubled as the Cal Athletics Director in Steve Gladstone. Training on the East Coast when these kind of non-ideal water conditions are more common may have given them an edge on this championship Sunday.

With three senior oarsmen, 5 of the 8 on this year’s Varsity 8 will be back for the Golden Bears next year. The Cal V8+ boat is always a United Nation of athletes from around the world (mostly Europe, Australia, and US). There are more info about them in my preview post.

Looking ahead into next year, the expectation for the perennial National Championships contenders that is Cal Men’s Rowing, is the same - to win another national title. This is true even though Cal will have a new head coach in Cal alum, 3x former Calympian for Canada, and now long time associate head coach at Cal in Scott Frandsen. Mike Teti is stepping down as the head coach for Cal Men’s Rowing to head the US Men’s National Team in their brand new facility right next to where the Golden Bears train in Oakland (it would be US Rowing’s 2nd HQ after Princeton).

Cal will also be down one Calympian with the graduation of Natan. On the future of the program from Natan, “Those guys are going to be great. I know that. And Scott [Frandsen], our new [head] coach, loves Cal so much. The team is in great hands. Five of the guys on our boat will be back. I’m sure that they will do real well next year.”

As for his own future, the Polish Calympian added, “My Cal career is over. It is a great experience to be here with my team. Rowing at Cal is a great experience for these last four years.” What’s next for the Pac-12 Men’s Rowing Scholar-Athlete of the Year? “I’m going back to Poland to train for the World Championships in the singles scull (his 2016 Rio Olympics event) probably. Then in October, I’m starting my graduate program at Cambridge. Then I’ll prepare for the next Olympics.” Clearly, the Cal sociology major is going to achieve great things in and out of the water.

Understandably somewhat emotional when I spoke to him after the medal ceremony, Natan admits to how he will miss his Cal teammates. This is particularly true because his Olympic event is the single scull where he just rows by himself. “It’s such a different experience. Here, as a part of the team, we push each other. We support each other. In singles, I’m on my own. It’s unique but a tough and different challenge.”

However, he is confident that he will be seeing his Cal teammates in the International scene, maybe even a future Olympic games. “Everyone on our boat has international experience and they race for their national teams in the summer. Lots of experience there. Most of the guys will be trying for the Olympics.” Cal fans will have more rowing Calympians to cheer for in the 2020 Tokyo Games and beyond.

As for the rest of the Golden Bears, the other two Varsity 8 boats also earned a spot on the podium (top 3). Weather condition (high winds) cancelled the Varsity 4 race, unfortunately. With a 3rd place in V8+, 2nd in the 2nd Varsity 8, and 3rd in the 3rd Varsity 8, Cal Men’s Rowing finished 3rd in the team point race behind Washington and Yale. Except for Cal’s 2016 victory, Washington has won the James Ten Eyck overall points title every other year this decade.

For the 2V8, it was a close two team race between the Golden Bears and the Huskies. Unfortunately, the Huskies prevailed for the 3rd time this year (they also won at the annual Cal-UW dual race and the Pac-12 Championships).

For the 3V8, Cal finished behind Washington and Harvard.

This was the last chance for a team national championship in the 2017-18 school year for Cal Athletics. After the Cal Women’s Rowing’s NCAA team title last week, Cal will have 98 team national championships going into the 2018-19 school year.

On the individual side, things are not quite done yet (yeah, graduation was a couple of weeks ago). Seven Golden Bears will compete later this week from Oregon in the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Check back on CGB for updates on those Bears.