All hail the Bear: Cal crew annihilates at IRA championships

Photo of men's rowing crew
Karen Chow/Senior Staff

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From killer whales to great white sharks, the list of the world’s most-feared water creatures is extensive, but it is incomplete without one more addition: the California Bears. When it comes to the water, Cal crew has proven there is nothing to be more afraid of.

This past weekend, the blue and gold lived up to their name, striking gold at the IRA Championships for the first time since 2016.

“I’m just really proud of how the whole team handled itself through the year and especially this past weekend,” said head coach Scott Frandsen.

The weekend started strong despite unexpected rainy weather conditions. With the V8+ heading onto the water for the Bears’ first race of the regatta, anticipation was high, but the varsity boat executed with ease. Within the first minute, Cal had led with a six-seat advantage ahead of Syracuse. During the remainder of the race, the Bears only grew their lead, finishing a full boat ahead of the Orange.

The 2V8+ followed suit, maintaining first throughout the full 2000 meters. The 3V8+ had a slightly harder time claiming a first-place spot, trailing just behind Brown to finish in second. Nevertheless, all three boats finished within the top two of their respective heats, advancing to the AB semi-finals.

Unfortunately for the V4+, the Bears lost an early lead in the last 30 seconds of the race, resulting in a fourth-place finish. Unable to finish within the top two, Cal only qualified for the petite final.

Saturday opened up with a show from the V8+ once again. Rowing directly next to the Huskies, the Bears showed no mercy to their rival. Before the boats reached the 500-meter mark, Cal had already gained a seven-seat advantage. The Bears did as the Bears do, finishing first with a time of 5:33:311, 2.66 seconds ahead of Washington.

The 2V8+ brought the drama — Cal’s early lead was provoked by Brown and Princeton in a neck-to-neck battle. However, the Bears did not once back down, finishing first.

The 3V8+ race was a fight between the Huskies and Bulldogs. Luckily for Cal, it secured the only thing it needed to head to the grand final: a third-place finish.

The V4+ shook off any hindrance from its previous performance, cruising into first after a contentious and close race for the petite final; this secured Cal a seventh-place overall finish.

Sunday opened with the 3V8+ grand final. Starting rather conservatively, the Bears’ slower start made it difficult to close the gap on the other boats, finishing fifth.

Cal showed an aggressive start for the 2V8 grand final. However, Yale led the race, making the Bears fight for a podium finish. In the last 500 meters, Cal edged out Dartmouth, making second place.

The V8+ grand final determines who claims the national title. The race consisted of the country’s best boats: Cal, Yale, Harvard, Washington, Syracuse and Brown.

With a dominating start by the Bears, going a colossal 47 strokes per minute, Cal led the race by the 500-meter mark. In response to an aggressive challenge from the Bulldogs, the Bears pushed harder, gaining almost a full boat advantage at 1000 meters. Before Cal reached the finish line, Yale was only four-seats behind. However, it wasn’t enough — the Bears secured a first place finish of 5:44:439, just over two seconds ahead of the Bulldogs.

This win was the cherry on top of Cal’s undefeated season. As the 18th national championship title for the crew program, it was only fair that the Bears’ oldest sport would bring home Cal Athletics’ 100th national title. After this flawless season, alongside a powerhouse of freshmen, the expectations for the Bears’ future is high.

Cal will head to England this summer to race at the world-renowned Henley Royal Regatta. There, it will row alongside the world’s best boats.

“[The Henley race] is kind of a reward trip, it’ll be a lot of fun for the guys,” Frandsen said. “Mainly hoping to get the guys a mental and physical break, so everybody comes back in August refreshed and ready to tackle a completely different season.”

Madison Lee covers men’s and women’s crew. Contact her at [email protected].