Cal women’s rowing wills way to 4th NCAA championship title

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There’s nothing better than good, old-fashioned revenge — except, perhaps, that revenge coming in the form of a national championship. Just a week after placing second to Washington in the Pac-12 Championships, the Cal women’s crew team was able to put together a stellar performance that was just enough to land it its fourth NCAA team championship in program history — and its second in the past three years.

The overall team title standings saw Cal put up 130 total points in Sarasota, Florida, which was barely enough to put it above archrival Washington, which finished with 128 points. They were followed by fellow rowing powerhouses Texas and Stanford, in respective order.

Beginning with the individual heat stage on Friday, the Bears breezed through the first round in all three events. They secured semifinal spots in the varsity eight, second varsity eight, and varsity four with relative ease, as Cal was a top-three seed in every event.

For the Saturday semifinals, the top three finishers from each of the two heats would move on to the grand final. For the first time on the weekend, the Bears got a chance to face Washington in the varsity eight semifinals. They made the most of their opportunity by beating out the Huskies by just less than two seconds, but the victory hardly meant anything, as it only meant both teams were moving on to the grand final.

Cal also won its semifinal heats in both the second varsity eight and varsity four, meaning all three crews would get an opportunity to compete for gold Sunday.

Well, it was supposed to be Sunday at least.

A decision was made at the last minute to push the grand finale from Sunday to Saturday afternoon because of a tropical storm warning. This meant that Cal, along with the other schools that reached the grand finale, would have to battle the exhaustion of competing in two races in the span of less than eight hours.

In the varsity eight finale, the Bears fell a bit behind early to top-seeded Washington after beating it in the semifinals, but they used a strong surge at around the 1000-meter mark to pull ahead. They were able to keep their pace and finished first over the Huskies by almost the same margin as their victory in the previous round.

Unable to keep up with Washington in the second varsity eight finale, Cal took second place in the event, which set up a dramatic final event that perfectly encapsulated the rivalry between the two rowing powerhouses throughout the entirety of this spring season.

Washington and Cal in the varsity four. The national team title on the line. Winner takes all.

The boats were neck and neck for virtually the entire race, but the Bears were able to turn on the afterburners to finish less than a second ahead of the Huskies, giving them a gold in the varsity four and, more importantly, a national title.

An incredible season that featured a back-and-forth battle between the top two teams in the country concluded with a storybook ending, one that had Cal hoisting a trophy and accomplishing the goal it had set in mind the entire year.

Shailin Singh covers crew. Contact him at [email protected].