Cal men’s crew competes at Henley Royal Regatta, wins Visitors’ Challenge Cup

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There’s something about the old-fashioned, one-on-one, elimination-style competition format of the Henley Royal Regatta that seems to have reinvigorated and brought out the best in the Cal men’s crew quartet of Morgan Hellen, Niki Van Sprang, Jovan Jovanovic and Max Hall.

The Bears made the trip to England, where they competed at the 176th annual event — held on the River Thames — against some of the best programs in the world and won the Visitors’ Challenge Cup.

On Thursday, in the team’s first test of the competition, Cal went up against Nottingham Trent University and came out on top with a 7.09-minute finish. The victory against the English boat allowed the Bears to advance to their second race, contested Friday. This time, Cal went up against an American foe, Harvard B. The Bears dispatched Harvard B with an impressive 6.49. By defeating the Harvard boat, the Bears advanced to Sunday’s semifinals.

Cal went head to head against Newcastle University in its semifinal fixture and defeated the English side by almost one full length. The win allowed Cal to progress to Saturday’s championship race.

In the final, the Bears competed against Australia’s Sydney Rowing Club and emerged victorious by nearly two lengths with a 6.40 finish. The victory during the Fourth of July weekend secured the Visitors’ Challenge Cup for the Bears and ensured that they wouldn’t be making the trip home empty handed.

The cup victory was a huge accomplishment for Cal because it helped remind its American adversaries that it’s still one of the programs to beat, despite its second-place finish at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships back in May. More importantly, the Bears indirectly earned a little bit of redemption Sunday. Washington, the IRA champions, also competed in the Visitors’ Challenge Cup competition and lost in the semifinals to Sydney Rowing Club, which Cal defeated in the final. Therefore, Cal earned the opportunity to walk away with a little bit of bragging rights, having defeated its rival’s semifinal opponent.

Unfortunately for the Bears, they couldn’t truly have the last laugh against Washington, because the Huskies won the Prince Albert Challenge Cup, a competition in which Cal fielded a boat manned by Julian Venonsky, Bennet Stahl, Jared Arat, Harrison Van Andel and Harry Kelly. In this competition, Cal was eliminated in its first and only race at the hands of Holland’s Amsterdamsche Studenten Roeivereeniging Nereus on Friday. The Dutch boat defeated the Bears by nearly three lengths with a 6.55 finish, leaving the Bears unable to finish anywhere near the Huskies’ top spot and keeping the rivalry even.

Nevertheless, Cal’s victory in the Visitors’ Challenge Cup competition indicates that the team is not getting complacent as a result of its excellent form and strong performances during the 2014-15 season. Instead, it seems the Bears are preparing well this summer for the challenges that their familiar foes and potential new adversaries may present next season.

Manny Flores is the assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @manny_0.