Cal men and women’s crew both have successful weekends racing

The men’s and women’s varsity rowing teams kicked off their racing season this weekend: The men sent six boats to compete in the San Diego Crew Classic, while the women headed to the Pac-12 Challenge in Redwood City, California.

The varsity men returned five members of the third-place varsity-eight boat from the 2014 IRA National Championships, along with several members of the team’s victorious second and third varsity boats. The team began the season ranked second in the country and is looking to build off last season’s success with the goal of winning the 2015 IRA championships in May.

The team was looking to repeat the three first-place finishes in San Diego in 2014 and easily cruised through Saturday’s qualifying heats, sending all six boats to the grand finals of their events. In Sunday’s varsity final, the Bears were tested more seriously but eventually crossed the line with a time of 5:53, beating out Penn, Stanford and Navy, who finished neck and neck with times of 6:03, 6:04 and 6:05, respectively.

In back-to-back races, the varsity men went one-two in the second varsity-eight race, and the freshman varsity eight won by a margin of almost 25 seconds. The Bears completed their sweep in San Diego by crossing the line first in the Open Eight event with a time of 5:53, taking home four gold medals and starting off the racing season on a high note going into the Pac-12 Challenge.

Meanwhile, the Cal women marked the beginning of a new era with new coach Al Acosta’s first race, the Pac-12 Challenge. The No. 4 women were looking for an auspicious start to Acosta’s tenure as they aim to improve upon their second-place team finish at the 2014 NCAAs. Stephanie Kraemer, Anne Duval, Charlotte Passot and Dorothee Beckendorff — individual champions in the Varsity Four — all returned, and the team prepared to take on No. 2 Virginia on Sunday in a race featuring two of the favorites to capture the national title.

The women kicked off the weekend Saturday with a blowout of Oklahoma in the varsity eight, 2V eight and varsity four, winning all three races by more than 25 seconds and notching an impressive time of 6:22 in the first varsity event. Led by senior coxswain Lindsay Meltz, the varsity eight cut off six seconds from their previous time and blew away Washington State by a margin of almost 15 seconds, en route to sweeps of the Cougars and Oregon State.

In Sunday’s showdown with Virginia, the varsity eight again proved themselves by crossing the line in 6:16, a length of open water ahead of the women from Virginia. In the varsity and second varsity fours, Virginia squeaked out ahead with times of 7:14 and 7:18, respectively, as compared to the 7:19 and 7:21 marks set by Cal. In the second varsity eight, with a chance to split with Virginia, the Bears were unable to take the lead and crossed the line in 6:30, four seconds off pace.

Despite the favorable conditions, the quick times from the varsity eight came as a pleasant surprise for Acosta, who noted that the team was focusing on “bringing practice to races” and finding more consistency for their next race at Lake Natoma in Folsom, California, while also commenting that lineups were not yet finalized.