The UW varsity eight boat stroked past Harvard in the grand final at the IRA Championships to claim the Challenge Cup trophy at Lake Natoma.
GOLD RIVER, Calif. — The Washington men’s rowing team capped another phenomenal season in grand style.
The Huskies’ varsity eight crew beat out Harvard in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships to capture a third consecutive Challenge Cup trophy at Lake Natoma on Sunday.
And just like 2012, the win capped off a sweep for UW of all five grand finals.
“We just embraced the hard work and the process,” Huskies coach Michael Callahan said. “It’s kind of cliché, but it’s true. I think we have a lot of trust in what we do and the guys.
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“There have been hard moments, too. Sometimes from the outside it may not seem like that, but there are a lot of hard days and a lot of hard workouts.”
UW also won the Ten Eyck Award, given to the top overall team, for the seventh consecutive season.
Husky senior captain Alex Bunkers succinctly summed the day up as “awesome.”
“There is no better group I would rather finish out with,” Bunkers said. “Every year it is so unbelievable to come to the IRA and win this thing.”
Bunkers switched from the seventh seat to the bow before his senior season. Callahan noted his captain’s leadership and unselfishness as a key component to the continued success for UW.
“He is your typical lead-by-example guy,” Callahan said. “He said all of the right things (Saturday) night in the team meeting… he moves to bow and not a word about it. He might want to have a bigger piece of the pie, but the boat was going better with him in the bow.”
Bunkers credited Sunday’s win, which was Harvard’s first loss this season, to work ethic and planning.
“I think it was just power,” Bunkers said. “One reason is our work ethic during the offseason. We just grind. Every year, all year we grind.”
Harvard opened up with a lead in the beginning of the finals, but UW pulled ahead in the second 500 meters and never trailed, finishing in 5 minutes, 39.68 seconds — 2.56 seconds ahead of the Crimson.
“Harvard had a really strong start, but we knew they could go the distance,” Callahan said. “So it was two-prong to cover the guys who start fast and those that finish — so basically we had to have a complete race. I think the boat was really embracing it.”
Six of the eight members of the varsity eight are seniors. But with the rest of the UW crews winning their finals, Bunkers sees no reason for the program to slow down.
“I think the sky is the limit with this coaching staff here,” Bunkers said. “Mike Callahan has done an unbelievable job. I truly believe he is the best coach out there and really maximizes everyone and squeezes every ounce of speed out of everyone.”
None of the five crews for UW lost a race during the three-day competition, including the finals on Sunday.
The second varsity eight crew beat Brown by nearly five seconds, but the most exciting race of the day came in the varsity four competition, with UW edging California by .3 seconds.
“That was by far the closest race and closest finish I’ve ever been in,” senior coxswain Ben Dagang said. “My heart was probably going 200 beats a minute in those few strokes.”
• In the lightweight division, which UW didn’t compete in, Seattle Prep graduate Michael Wales rowed in the winning Harvard men’s varsity four, and Mackenzie Crist of Holy Names won the women’s varsity eight with Stanford.