It was a memorable win in what Michael Callahan, coach of the Washington men’s rowing team, considers one of the most important races of the year.
In the 108th edition of the historic Washington-California duel, the second-ranked UW varsity eight overcame an early a six-seat deficit to rally for an impressive boat-length victory over No. 4 Cal Saturday morning on Montlake Cut—the showcase win in a four-race sweep.
“We circled two dates on the calendar this year, this one and the end of the year (June 2, the final day of the national championship regatta),” Callahan said. “This was a very important one for sure.”
In eight of the past 10 years, either Washington (six times) or Cal (twice) has won the men’s Intercollegiate Rowing Association title.
“This is a barometer for us to see how we’re doing every year,” Callahan said, noting Cal had defeated UW V8s in their past two meetings on Montlake in 2017 and 2015. “It’s the first real test.”
The Huskies were tested early in the V8 race as Cal quickly opened a multiseat lead while plowing through the first 500 meters (of a 2,000-meter race) in 1 minute 19.4 seconds, roughly a second off a world-record pace.
“This is a pretty slow course, with cold water and not a big tailwind,” said 6-foot-5 UW junior Sam Halbert, who rowed stroke in the V8.
“We thought either they are incredible, or they are going to die and we’re just going to reel them back in.
“We were just calm, collected, and come 1K we just kicked in one more gear,” he said. “We turned it into a boxing match, not a street fight. A street fight is scrappy; you’re throwing everything you can at it. A boxing match is very tactical. You know it’s not going to go down all at once.
“Anyone can race 1K, but it’s a 2K race,” Halbert said. “Bob Moch of the 1936 (“Boys in the Boat”) crew coined the term ‘Mind in the boat.’ So we thought about that. Mind our own boat. We knew we had what it took.”
UW fell behind by as many as six, maybe seven, seats and trailed at the 1,000-meter split by two-plus seconds (2:39.9 to 2:42.1) before sophomore coxswain Adam Gold, a Seattle Academy grad making his first V8 start, upped his boat’s pace in the third 500.
“I knew they had gone out hard and they paid a price for that,” he said. “So I just picked the right moment.”
The Huskies led by 1.3 seconds at the 1,500-meter split and won by more than three seconds (5:32.554 to 5:35.784), an eight-seat lead.
“Rowing 1:19 is a pretty blistering pace for the first 500, especially this water,” Callahan said. “They put us under a ton of pressure. We could have folded right there, and we didn’t. We held our composure, went through the race plan, and we just starting taking a couple of seats at a time and regained momentum.
“If momentum goes away from you, you have to regain it,” he said. “Sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do in a boat race, come from behind. You have to stop someone else’s momentum and then make a counterattack, and that’s what our guys did.”
The two boats veered toward each other at midrace, prompting a couple of callouts from the course referee.
“It was toe-to-toe, or blade tip-to-blade tip, if you will, from start to finish,” Callahan said. “They were so close to each other the whole way, which brought incredible drama and intensity to it. Usually rowing is not a contact sport, and they didn’t make contact today, but that’s about as close as you can get. It just shows you the intensity. Neither team wants to give a centimeter to the other guy. That was a classic.”
The key factor in the win?
“I’d say trust,” Callahan said. “We asked our guys to trust our rhythm. California really put us under a lot of pressure in the first 500. To come back from that shows the internal trust we’re trying to build in the team, which we’re going to need at the end of the season. We can’t rely just on talent or hard work. We’ve got to be pulling for that other guy in the boat. That’s what they did today.”
All-time, UW now leads the dual 75-32-1 . . . UW’s second variety 8 won by eight seats over Cal, and the 3V8 and freshman eight both won by open-water margins. Callahan could not recall a UW race-card sweep in at least seven years. “It shows the depth of the team, and it’s super-important for the rowers. It’s good to see the class of ’22 (freshmen) assert themselves so well, rowing against California for the first time. You’re learning a lot your freshman year, and this is an important one to grab.”
Callahan had high praise for Gold in his first V8 start. “I think Adam did a very good job,” he said. “It’s an intimidating situation coming into this boat. It moves really fast, it’s really intense, there’s a lot of pressure on him. He handled it really well.”
Cal grad and former Olympian Scott Frandsen experienced his first UW-Cal dual since becoming Cal’s head men’s coach last summer. “I think we learned a lot about what we need to focus on to execute our race plan better,” he said. “Being tested under pressure, I think our rowers did really well. But all things can be sharpened and improved upon. We need to maintain our efficiency for a longer period.”