Men’s rowing gears up for national championship

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo

The Colonials' last visit to the IRA Championship in 2019 saw the first varsity eight finish No. 13 in the nation, its best finish in program history.

After finishing their final regular season, the men’s rowing team is gearing up for the Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championship at the end of the month.

The Colonials endured a postponed season after the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the fall 2020 races to the spring. After competing in just four competitions all season, men’s rowing looks to end on a high note at the IRA National Championship ahead of the program’s termination following the end of the 2020-21 season.

“We’ve been trying to focus really hard on staying intrinsic, and focusing on the family we have inside the team, and not trying to get distracted by being cut, COVID and temptations to make poor decisions,” head coach Eric Gehrke said. “But really staying inside the program and making sure everybody’s committed to each other, and putting down our best spring season we can considering everything.”

The team competed in their first race April 19 where the first Varsity Eight and second Varsity Eight collected wins over Navy Lights and Jacksonville. The first and second Varsity Eight also swept Saint Joseph’s and Drexel April 24.

Gehrke said he has placed an emphasis on their own process and execution rather than the opponent because the team knows they can “hang” with the better teams. He said the team is training further into the season than they are accustomed to, but the team is “amped” for the opportunity to still compete.

Despite dropping their races to Navy May 2, all three Varsity Eight squads posted wins over Holy Cross the same day to earn the sweep. The first Varsity Eight also finished second overall at the Dad Vail Regatta Saturday while the second and third boats claimed first and third place in their grand finale competitions, respectively.

“We have been executing quite well, we’re 5-2 in our top two boats, which is as good as GW has ever done,” Gehrke said. “We’ve been ranked in the top 10, top 12 all season, which is really good for GW.”

The last time the Colonials competed at the IRA Championship was in 2019. The first Varsity Eight put on a historic showing, winning the Third-Level Final to mark the best finish in program history at No. 13 in the nation.

Gehrke said the coaching staff has also focused on adhering to the COVID-19 protocols set by both the athletic department and the D.C. guidelines to return to the championship. He said it presented a challenge due to the large roster, but the team is doing their part to remain compliant.

“We’ve got fairly high expectations of ourselves, no matter what the consequences are around us,” Gehrke said. “So the team is really handling themselves very respectfully in terms of their own professionalism about training and executing.”

Sophomore Aidan Rowland said one of the major challenges for the team was fitting their high-level training into the pandemic. He said the team was only allowed to train in single boats rather than as a group, but it allowed him to acquire new individual skills.

“In addition to that, it’s dealing with the fact that this is our last season as a varsity team, for the foreseeable future,” Rowland said. “So what would have been a challenging season anyways, is more challenging, because you’re jumping through hoops to even train as a team.”

Rowland said the overall team effort has become a big motivating factor after GW announced the discontinuation of the program. He said the squad will look to build off their recent success ahead of the IRA Championship and cement the program’s legacy.

“We’re going to do this one for ourselves,” Rowland said. “That’s the mentality we’ve taken. It’s not for anyone else. No one else knows what we’re going through. It’s just for the other guys on the team.”

He said his experience on the rowing team ultimately allowed him to grow as an individual at GW during the pandemic. He said he takes pride in the team’s ability to make something out of their final season and hopes to conclude it on a successful note.

“We’ve been through a lot this year, more so than I could have ever imagined,” Rowland said. “It’s definitely not how I thought my first two years at GW would have gone, but honestly, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

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