The undefeated Huskies set a course record in winning the varsity eight title, and set an IRA record with wins in all five events Saturday on the Cooper River. It is UW's fourth national title in six years.
CHERRY HILL, N.J. — From the start of the 2011-12 school year, Washington men’s crew coach Michael Callahan knew he had something special.
He knew it by the way his team dominated every race it rowed — in practice, in trials and in championships.
“In the beginning of the year I asked the guys if repeating (as national champions) motivated them, and they actually said no,” Callahan said Saturday from the banks of the Cooper River, where the Huskies celebrated a clean sweep of the Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships.
“They said they really wanted to find themselves and leave last year behind. They really wanted to be known for their own accomplishments. Now they have a record, so I guess they got it.”
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With some assistance from a slight tailwind, the Huskies finished a dominant season with another convincing victory, setting a course record with a blazing time of 5 minutes, 21.482 seconds, ahead of Brown (5:23.476) and Harvard (5:24.658).
The previous course record of 5:23.60 was set by California in the grand final of the 1999 IRAs.
The Huskies’ 16th national title was their fourth in six years and marked the first time they’ve won back-to-back Varsity Challenge Cups since 1940-41.
Washington’s dominance was not limited to the varsity eight. The Huskies won all five men’s events, recording record times in second varsity eight, freshman eight, varsity four and open four. It was the first time a program has swept all five events in the IRAs, and the result was a sixth straight Ten Eyck trophy, given annually to the overall points champion at IRAs.
“That’s a top-notch staff and a top-notch program,” said Cal coach Mike Teti, whose varsity eight boat gave UW a fight early in the race before fading. “They’re always going to be knocking on the door or winning. It’s not great for us, but at the same time they are the best program right now and they worked hard to get there.”
Like Friday’s semifinal race, Saturday’s grand final was delayed by a false start. But once the boats were realigned, Washington pulled out to an early lead and slowly built on it.
Brown and Harvard tried to mount a challenge, but when Huskies senior coxswain Sam Ojserkis saw that his boat was on a record pace midway through the 2,000-meter race, he knew the result was academic.
“I told the guys we were cooking,” Ojserkis said. “No boat has been able to hang with us this season, so it’s a great feeling knowing the other boats were going to drop off later.”
That’s exactly what happened and when Washington crossed the finish line a boat length ahead of the field, all eight rowers raised their fists and let out primal screams that could be heard in the grandstand.
“It’s absolutely unreal,” said senior Rob Munn, who was taken off last year’s top boat just before it won the national title. “We just set the course record in the national championships. Not many crews can say they did what we did this season.”
Callahan said it wasn’t until a practice two weeks ago that he recognized just how dominant his varsity eight had become. In that practice on Lake Washington, the Huskies broke their own course record by five seconds.
“I didn’t want to say it, but that’s when I knew,” Callahan said.
The Huskies’ perfect season did not come without waves. Senior captain Mathis Jessen was forced to sit out the Pac-10 championships with an illness and did not make the trip to the IRAs. His replacement, undersized junior A.J. Brooks, never skipped a beat.
“Some coaches wondered why we recruited him,” Callahan said. “But when Mathis got sick, A.J. was ready to go and he did it without a hiccup. He kept trucking forward. He’s got a lion’s heart.”
Callahan offered similar praise to Ojserkis, saying the program will miss the two-time national champion.
Said Ojserkis: “We wanted to leave this place better than we found it. We went 5 for 5 and won our sixth Ten Eyck. I feel like a million bucks.”
• Mackenzie Crist, a graduate of Holy Names High School, was part of the Stanford’s women’s lightweight eight that won its third straight national championship at the IRAs.
|Varsity 8 lineup|
|The lineup for the UW varsity eight:|
|Cox||Sam Ojserkis (Linwood, N.J.)|
|Stroke||Dusan Milovanovic (Novi Sad, Serbia)|
|7||Alex Bunkers (Maitland, Fla.)|
|6||Ryan Schroeder (Thousand Oaks, Calif.)|
|5||Mijo Rudelj (Kastel Ctafilic, Croatia)|
|4||Sebastian Peter (Kassel, Germany)|
|3||Sam Dommer (Folsom, Calif.)|
|2||A.J. Brooks (Costa Mesa, Calif.)|
|Bow||Rob Munn (Redmond)|