For the second straight year, Washington finished second to Yale in the IRA championships. Unlike last year, this race was not close. The Huskies did win the second varsity eight and third varsity eight titles and were overall point leader for the 11th time in 12 years.
WEST WINDSOR, N.J. — There was no photo finish this year.
There wasn’t the coveted colorful picture on the top step of the podium holding the Varsity Challenge Cup either.
The University of Washington men’s rowing team, which came into the 116th Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships as the top-ranked varsity eight boat, endured its first loss of the season, falling behind early to defending national champion Yale on Sunday and coming in second by almost a full boat.
Last year, the Huskies lost the varsity eight by 0.069 seconds to Yale on Lake Natoma in Northern California. Relying on a strong start, the official margin of victory this year for the Bulldogs was over two seconds.
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“Yale was faster today,” Washington coach Michael Callahan said. “We did a lot of training for the first 500, to have a better quarter of the race, but I don’t think we showed that today, unfortunately.”
The Huskies have won 18 Varsity Challenge Cups beginning in 1923 and claimed three straight from 2013 to 2015, including the last two here at Mercer Lake. But UW couldn’t overcome an early deficit on the choppy waters.
The V8 boat included four in-state products: coxswain Rielly Milne (Woodinville), 6-seat Sam Halbert (Woodinville), 5-seat Madison Molitor (Moses Lake) and bow Elijah Maesner (Eastlake).
“It’s frustrating not to be able to finish, but I’m happy with our season,” Molitor said. “It has been wonderful to have raced with these guys and to race against Yale and Cal.”
Washington was pulling for its first national title since 2015 on a breezy morning with slight rain over the 2,000-meter course. Yale finished in 6:01.648 and Washington clocked a 6:04.337 while California placed a distant third 6:08.911.
The order of finish of the top three boats was all that was really in doubt since the previous three champions were Washington (2015), California (2016) and Yale (2017).
“We were strong enough for second,” Callahan said. “It was really an incredible field. Men’s rowing keeps growing and getting deeper. It was a great race.”
The Huskies second varsity eight and third varsity eight won national titles.
The three grand finals that count toward the James Ten Eyck Trophy, which is awarded for overall points, was won by the Huskies for the 11th time in the last 12 years. Last year, the Huskies also won the second and third varsity eights and the varsity four.
“To win the Ten Eyck Cup is one of the program’s biggest goals,” Callahan said. “I think top to bottom we are the best program.”
The Huskies second varsity eight won the Kennedy Challenge Cup with a 6:23:404 over second place California (6:25.427) and Yale (6:31.079).
The Washington third varsity eight clocked a 6:33.546 to comfortably top Harvard (6:37.214) and California (6:42.550) for the Stewards Cup.
“I think our guys rowed the best race we could have,” said Huskies senior Sean Kelly, who is from nearby Princeton. “It is not the result we wanted but we did our race.
“We left if all on the water.”
In the varsity eight race, Yale seized the early lead with three seats ahead of the Huskies at 500 meters and Cal two seats behind Washington. The Bulldogs lead spread to seven seats over the Huskies at 1,000 meters.
In the third 500, Washington padded its lead over third-place California by six seats but couldn’t make up any water on the boat from New Haven, Conn.
In the final 500, Yale responded to a push by Washington and won by seven seats.
“They did a really good job of getting out of the blocks, they got started super clean,” Kelly said. “We had a bobble or two in the start, but we were kind of able to get back on our feet and were able to make some pushes on them, but they are a strong crew.
“They are a fast boat.”
Last year, on the same course, the Washington women’s rowing team made history winning another NCAA title, sweeping all three grand events for the first time in the 21-year history of the regatta.
The Huskies varsity eight men couldn’t duplicate the women’s historic sweep. Still, the second-place finish failed to diminish a superb season on many levels.
“We had a really incredible team effort,” Callahan said. “We made a lot of improvements, the depth, the strength, the team morale was better than last year.”