On April 6 and 7, UCSB’s Rowing Team brought home three trophies from the 40th Annual San Diego Crew Classic — one of the biggest nationwide regattas in collegiate rowing.
Over 50 universities participated in the two-day competition, along with high school and post-collegiate teams. The Men’s Varsity 8+, a boat of eight rowers directed by a coxswain, won the American Specialty Health Cal Cup for the first time since 1991, defeating 19 other teams including UCLA and Bucknell, which was seeded as number one.
Andy Verdegaal, a fourth-year biology major and rower for the Varsity 8+ boat, said the victory was all the more sweet because of how far the team has come and the sacrifices each rower has made for the sport.
“It was probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life … all the guys got really emotional,” Verdegaal said. “Our novice coach told us [when we first joined], ‘One day you guys are going to win Crew Classic.’ And we would always joke about it like, ‘Yeah, we’re totally going to win.’ It finally happened, so when we won, I couldn’t believe it. For us, it’s our life. We practice 10 times a week; we race every weekend in spring. I’ve changed my major for it.”
The Men’s Lightweight 8+, a boat containing eight rowers all weighing below 160 pounds and also led by a coxswain, competed against four other teams and ranked first, winning them the Secretary of the Navy Cup for the first time in UCSB history.
According to Nolan Estremo, fourth-year aquatic biology major and rower for the Lightweight 8 event, the win came as a surprise.
“I’m still shocked,” Estremo said. “If you ask any one of the guys in that boat, it’s still kind of hard to believe, because four years ago when we joined the team, UCSB Rowing, as far as the men’s team is concerned, wasn’t quite as big as it is now. There were just six guys in the varsity team. So when we showed up to Crew Classic four years ago, it was this huge event, and none of us had any idea what we were doing and probably didn’t perform as well as we wanted to.”
Over the years, however, the team saw exponential growth and progress, Estremo said.
“Now instead of entering one boat, we’re entering several boats, and this year we had two of those boats actually win the competition, which is something we hadn’t seen … It’s something that hasn’t happened for UCSB Rowing in 20 years,” Estremo said. “So when we won, it was just awesome. There are few words to describe it, to describe how we felt; it was exciting and unbelievable at the same time.”
Desmond Stahl, coach of the men’s team, said the team members do a good job of motivating one another and he is proud of their accomplishments.
“The actual watching of the race is very hard. It really wasn’t clear they were going to win until the last 20 seconds,” Stahl said. “[There were] a lot of positive emotions, a lot of relief. The stress is over, at least for this week. I’m proud of the work they’ve done so far, and it’s a pretty big accomplishment for them at such a prestigious race.”
Stahl said all current or previous efforts are being made as preparation for the upcoming championship races, including the Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships and the American Rowing Collegiate Association National Championships.
“We’re trying to enjoy this result, but we have bigger goals coming along down the line,” Stahl said.
Finally, the Women’s Novice 8+, a squad of first-year and first-time rowers, won the Women’s Collegiate DII/DIII/Club Novice competition, defeating rivals from UC Davis, UCSD, Cal State Long Beach and Mills College.
According to Sharon Montgomery, Women’s Novice Coach and recent UCSB biopsychology graduate, the spring training week with the members transformed the team and fostered noticeable improvement, which ultimately led to their success during Crew Classic.
“You could just tell the difference; they looked together, they looked amazing,” Montgomery said. “It was such a great feeling. The women’s novice team hadn’t won a medal in 22 years, so it was a great achievement for us. It was great to see them on stage. We had a big group hug and said, ‘This is what your effort, the hell of spring training, this is what it comes down to, winning races. You had the heart, you had the will, and you took it.’”
The Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships will occur next weekend on April 27 and 28, and the American Rowing Collegiate Association National Championships will take place on May 25 and 26.
I’m a long time rowing coach and program developer at every level from Elites to beginners, I’ve been watching UCSB’s progress from afar, the athletes in the program have much to be proud of. Mike and Des have done a stunning job there, expectations at UCSB are generally low. Fully funded programs and coaches get the national attention in USA rowing (and in every sport), so I sincerely hope the UCSB campus community embraces the success of these fine student athletes.