Virginia 1V warming up before a scrimmage with Michigan.
Courtesy of Dillon Harding Photography
The Virginia Men's Rowing team traveled to Washington D.C. this weekend to participate in the George Washington Invitational on the Potomac River. The regatta pitted the UVA men against George Washington, ranked 15th in the latest USRowing Collegiate poll, on Friday afternoon, as well as #8 Navy and Georgetown on Saturday. It was the second year of the Virginia club's participation in an otherwise exclusively Varsity event.
The spring season started memorably at the Murphy Cup on March 29th with the dedication of the crew's newest boat, the John "Jake" Cusano III, in honor of the team's fallen teammate. The shell, a Hudson Ultimate Super Predator, is the most advanced racing boat ever made, and the Virginia 1V had the privilege of becoming the first crew to ever row it. The Cusano family attended the dedication at the Cooper River, looking over the beautiful tribute to their beloved Jake, with each rigger enblazened with his last request to the team - "Keep on Pulling".
The racing at Murphy left much to be desired, however, as the Virginia boats, so used to the calm, sheltered Rivanna waters, were thrown about in the tough Jersey winds. The Novice 8, Novice 4, and 2nd Varsity 8 all finished 3rd, with the Varsity 8 placing 4th, behind 1st place rival Michigan. Changes would have to be made in the 2 weeks before the GW Invite.
Change came in the form of stern pair extraordinaires, John McNulty and Charlie Hanley, shifting into the 1V. Mega-lightweight, 155-pound, John McNulty would make up his deficit in size and horsepower with excellent rhythm and efficiency, allowing the engine room of Scott Helgeson, Gage Wells, Ty Saitta, and Garrett Thomas to operate at peak effectiveness. The boat was steadied in the bow with Forrest Brown and Andrew Heinzman. All 8 were led by unflappable coxswain Sarah Zillioux. The boys (and girl) were ready for the Potomac.
Virginia fell behind in the first 1V race of the regatta against GW, holding an open water deficit, or around 5 seconds, with 500 meters to go. Where other crews would lay down and take the decisive loss to a top crew, the UVA men had no such plans, charging back on the sprint to close the gap. While a big bobble in the last 10 strokes ended their upset hopes, a mere 2.8 second loss against a boat that beat Michigan by 4 seconds just last weekend is certainly a result to build on.
In their Saturday morning race, Virginia measured up against Navy. All UVA crews saw this duel as a tune-up for their afternoon showdown with Georgetown. Similar to a D-1AA football team visiting Alabama, this race was an experience, to see just how fast an elite crew can be from close up. The 2nd Varsity 8 held just 4 seats (about 1.5 seconds) back on the Navy 3V for the first 1000m, before succombing to Navy's brute speed and discipline through the second half of the race, finishing 7 seconds behind.
As the winds picked up on the Potomac, the Virginia 1V knew they would need a big effort to take out Georgetown, racing on their home course and having just beaten 20th-ranked UC San Diego by 10 seconds on Friday. In the last race of the day, the crowds built up along Washington Boulevard, and the boys were off. In the first 10 strokes, Virginia was up a half length. In the first 900 meters, Virginia had open water. As the wall of wind hit the crews through the Key Bridge with 800 meters to go, the advantage shifted to the much heavier Georgetown rowers. UVA's only option was to hold on to the wheel as Georgetown slowly but surely pushed back into the race. However, not enough water remained for them to finish their comeback, as Virginia took the race by a 1.6-second margin!
The regatta certainly provides much needed momentum as the Virginia Men's Rowing team enters the triumvirate of championship races. They will get another crack at George Washington, as well as 23rd-ranked Florida Institute of Technology, this weekend at SIRAs in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. After two weekends off, VMR travels to Philadelphia on May 9th and 10th to match up against #19 Drexel, FIT, Michigan, and Temple at the prestigious Dad Vail Regatta, which will be broadcasted on ESPN3. Finally, the team ends their year at the ACRA Club Rowing Championships on May 24th and 25th in Gainesville, Georgia, for one last battle with Michigan. After a two-year Virginia ACRA run from 2011 to 2012, Michigan had the last laugh in 2013. The Virginia men are driven to take the crown back to Charlottesville in 2014.
Follow @VirginiaRowing for updates through the season.