For the hundreds of spectators who lined Washington Harbour Saturday afternoon, the GW Invitational Crew Classic was both a social event and a chance to enjoy one of the National Cherry Blossom Festival’s premier events. For the host Colonials, it was their best performance in nine years.
The GW men’s and women’s crews combined to place second in the overall standings, finishing nine points behind first-place U.S. Naval Academy and five points ahead of third-place University of Tennessee in an invite that included crews from nine other schools. The only other time the Colonials placed second in the 16-year history of the event was in 1994, when they finished 17 points behind Navy.
“I think this team wants it just that much more (than in previous years),” senior rower Molly Hueller said. “I think the men’s and women’s programs are both doing really well and it’s easy to be excited for each other and want to do better when you have that feeling of a mutual obligation. I felt my boat had to do well, not just for us, but for the team.”
GW’s high finish was not the only rarity Saturday. For the first time in the event’s history, rowers went upriver, starting at Washington Harbour and moving south past Key Bridge.
The change was the result of heavy winds and a strong current that would have made the race unfair and possibly dangerous if ran down-river, GW crew director Steve Peterson said. The distance was also shortened from the usual 2,000 meters to 1,500 meters, with no buoys marking the lanes.
Spectators caught only glimpses of the races from Washington Harbour but many sat outside at riverside restaurants such as Sequoia and Tony and Joe’s while an announcer broadcast updates. In past years, the Harbour area was an ideal spot to watch crews cross the finish line, but the change in direction this year left many fans listening to the public address for results.
For GW, these changes worked out well. The women’s varsity eight placed second in the grand final, finishing 18 seconds behind first-place University of Tennessee and seven seconds ahead of third-place Columbia University. Hueller said she was proud of the crew’s performance despite not winning the invite.
“We’re finally racing where we should race,” she said. “It was amazing to be on the start line with schools of that caliber and know that we had a shot of winning.”
The men’s varsity eight finished third in the grand final, finishing 15 seconds behind first-place Navy, six seconds behind second-place Temple and six seconds ahead of fourth-place Marietta College. Georgetown, the defending champion in the varsity eight, did not make the grand final after Temple and GW finished ahead of the Hoyas in a semifinal heat.
“This is the strongest performance we’ve had since ’97,” junior coxswain Evan Johnson said. “It’s the first time we beat Georgetown since then, it’s the first time we’ve been in the grand final since ’97, and taking out Marietta was a big personal vendetta for us because they’re one of our rivals.”
While the men’s varsity eight final turned out well for GW, the race ended in controversy for two others. Shortly after the race began, Navy and Temple hit oars and one of the Temple rower’s oars was knocked out of place, an occurrence known as catching a crab.
Later in the race, with Navy comfortably ahead, the Midshipmen’s boat began to move into Temple’s path. While referees flagged Navy to move over, the Midshipmen struggled to get back in their lane against the strong currents and ended up finishing 10.6 seconds ahead of Temple.
The referees initially decided to award Temple the victory and penalized Navy by placing them in second, but Peterson said all the coaches talked with one another and agreed that Navy won fairly. The coaches persuaded the referees to take away Navy’s penalty and keep the original order of finish.
Peterson said he told the referees, “We’re not doing a lot by the rulebook today. We’re not racing 2,000 meters, we’re not using lanes, so I think it’s unfair to punish Navy. Navy was legitimately the fastest crew.”
In other grand final races, the women’s varsity four took third place, finishing behind Tennessee and Kansas State University and ahead of Georgetown. The men’s novice eight also placed third and the women’s novice eight took second.
The GW men’s crew’s next competition is the SIRA Championships in Oak Ridge, Tenn. April 19. The GW women’s crew has a two-week break before traveling to the Atlantic 10 championships in Camden, N.J.