WEST WINDSOR, N.J. – At the 500-meter point of Sunday’s 2,000-meter varsity eight rowing championship, with a national title in the balance and a fast-starting California team on a level plane with Washington, Huskies coxswain Stuart Sim, a sophomore from Melbourne, Australia, made a well-timed call for 10 hard strokes.
“I think the call at 500 meters was for the (three varsity eight) seniors,” Sim said. “This program is built because of guys who do this for four years and grind with grit day in and day out. … (The call) was our gift to them.”
Washington won its fourth straight Intercollegiate Rowing Association championship Sunday in 5:37.1, upstaging Brown (second, 5:39.6) and Cal (third, 5:42.1). The victory in the eight was the Huskies’ 16th overall.
Coming off a loss to Cal in the regatta’s semifinals, the team used a pair of tactical surges to beat a team that had given it fits off the starting line all season.
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“Cal is a team that starts fast and puts pressure on us,” said fifth-year senior and captain Sam Dommer. “We definitely wanted to neutralize that and get in their heads.
“I think the move we made at 400 meters neutralized (Cal’s). The (move) we made at 900 meters won us the race.”
The surges, which were synced to correspond with Cal’s surges, brought the teams even at the 500-meter mark. Then the Huskies found a groove.
“Coming off of the first 500 (meters), we got into our best (stroking) rhythm of the year,” Dommer said.
Washington led Cal by about three feet by 750 meters and then used a powerful push in the third 500 meters of the race to take a full boat-length lead over Cal and Brown. From there, a fourth straight national title was never in doubt.
“We’ve had some explosive workouts in our practices,” said UW coach Michael Callahan. “I think we saved it for our last day to pop it off.”
It was a redemptive stroke for a team that felt underappreciated. The Huskies were ranked sixth in preseason coaches’ polls in the fall after finishing fifth among college teams at the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston in October.
“A lot of people thought at the beginning of the year that we weren’t going to be in contention (for a national championship),” Dommer said. “We wanted to prove them wrong.”
In response to the team’s showing in Boston, Callahan adjusted the team’s training. He also integrated a strong freshman class into the varsity crews.
“(The freshman class) was new to the program and really deep, so we wanted them to bring their momentum and excitement to the program,” Callahan said.
Dommer said that there were moments of doubt dating to the fall, but the team had faith in Callahan’s training regimen.
“If (Callahan) says you’re on pace to win it during the season, you have to believe it,” Dommer said. “Which we did.”
Callahan said that the team was training at a “championship level” during the winter. He remembered telling an alumnus that they were on target to win. On Sunday, they did.
“I feel like these are the survivors and they had that (grinding) quality,” Callahan said. “No matter what happened, they just kept coming back.”
• Washington won three of five races and captured its eighth straight Ten Eyck Trophy, given to the team with the most total points in the IRA. The varsity four won by three seconds and the freshman eight won by almost six seconds.