Men’s side settles for third place at IRA Championship

First held in 1895, the  Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championship Regatta is the oldest college rowing championship in the United States.

The Cal men’s crew team has won the IRA national championship 16 times in program history, second to Cornell. The Bears’ most recent national victory was just last year and they were looking to finish 2011 by defending their crown.

In the final competition of the season, No. 2 Cal could only manage  third place at Cooper Hill in Cherry Hill, N.J..

“I’m really proud of our athletes,” coach Mike Teti said. “The varsity gave everything they had.”

In last year’s grand final, Cal narrowly edged Pac-10 rival Washington by just 0.263 seconds to capture the IRA Championship. But this year proved different, as the Huskies’ varsity 8+ posted a winning time of 5:30.623 to secure the title over Cal and runner-up Harvard.

The three-day event featured all of the Bears’ boats. They started strong on Thursday by claiming three wins in the heat stages. The varsity 8+ rowed the best time from their contingent with a 5:28.77. The closest time behind was Wisconsin in second place at 5:30.70.

Five Cal boats advanced to the semifinals, but only three — the varsity 8+, junior varsity 8+ and freshmen 8+ — pushed forward to the final day of the IRA Championship Regatta on Saturday. The varsity 8+ bears beat Brown with a two second margin in the semifinals. After overcoming some ill-timed adversity, the squad was putting it all on the line.

“We have battled sickness throughout the week leading up to the IRAs,” Teti said. “The level of competition was high, I am very pleased with the performances of our squad over the past two days.”

But Saturday morning’s race did not go the way the varsity 8+ had hoped. The boat included junior Dane Oatman, who was named the conference’s Newcomer of the Year, as well as all-conference team seniors Oliver Siegelaar and Spencer Crowley. Even with all-conference selection and Pac-10 Athlete of the Year Samuel Walker, the Bears couldn’t emerge victorious.

“Sammy is the soul of our team and we are not only proud of his achievement, but feel extremely lucky to be around such a fine young man,” Teti said. “Sammy is California Rowing.”

There was still consolation for the Bears, as the freshmen 8+ earned a hard-fought win over Washington. The freshmen boat has achieved success in the grand finals, winning three times in the past four years.

“Obviously the freshmen gave a great performance,” Teti said. “I’m pleased with the performance of the whole team, this bodes well for the program in the future.”

Camellia Senemar covers crew.