The Drexel University men’s and women’s crew teams took a trip to Boston Oct. 20-21 to compete in the most anticipated event of the fall season, the 48th annual Head of the Charles Regatta.
Taking place on the Charles River between Cambridge and Boston, the Head of the Charles consists of 60 events and draws over 9,000 athletes and 300,000 spectators every year, making it the largest two-day rowing event in the world. The Head of the Charles is a head race competition, which means that the boats within a given event are staggered onto the course every several seconds and timed from start to finish as opposed to racing simultaneously. The 3.2-mile course, which is known to be exceptionally challenging to navigate, begins at Boston University’s state-of-the-art DeWolfe Boathouse and winds all the way to the finish line between Eliot Bridge, the last of six bridges in the race, and Northeastern University’s Henderson Boathouse.
Drexel sent two boats to compete at the prestigious regatta. The women were up first for the Dragons, competing in the extraordinarily competitive Championship Eights division, which included the U.S. women’s gold medal Olympic team, among other strong international and collegiate opponents. Drexel raced well and finished in 18:02.926, which was good for 29th place in the field of 40 teams, two places better than their 31st-place finish in 2011.
Despite Drexel’s initial goal of finishing in the top half of the division, head coach Paul Savell was satisfied with how his team competed, noting that “it was an incredibly fast field this year with only one college finishing in the top five. … We’re still continuing to pick up speed as we approach the end of the fall season.”
Two of the 11 teams the Drexel women finished ahead of were the United States Naval Academy, who topped the Dragons last week at the Navy Day Regatta, and a good University of Tennessee squad. The large number of good teams finishing near the back of the field is a testament to the quality of competition Drexel faced. The U.S. women’s national team placed first in the event with a time of 16:13.487.
Roughly half an hour after the women’s race began, the Drexel men were at the top of the course, approaching the starting line to compete in the Collegiate Eights division. Going into the race, the men’s goal was to finish in the top half of the 37-team field, which included such teams as the University of Virginia, Bucknell University, Boston College, the University of Notre Dame and Saint Joseph’s University, among others.
As Savell described following the race, the Dragons’ pre-race strategy was a “solid plan of building momentum throughout the race by increasing the stroke rating as we progressed through the course. Also, we knew that we had to take advantage of the inside turns when we could.” And Drexel did just that. They were able to execute their plan and efficiently pass crews in front of them. The Dragons swept through the finish line with a time of 15:57.988, which would earn them 4th place in their division.
The men’s stellar performance was nine places better than last year’s 13th-place finish and the best in Drexel men’s crew history. Savell was very happy with his team’s success, but he was not the least bit surprised given the overall strength of his team right now.
“We’ve had some success this fall with different combinations and lineups, which shows that we have a high level of competition within the team,” Savell said. “These guys are pushing each other every day.”
Savell continued, “This intersquad competition is elevating and giving us confidence when we face other teams. The depth of the team really shows through the performances of all of our boats this season from the varsity eight all the way to the freshman eight.”
Savell was also excited to see his team perform well at the fall season’s premier regatta, commenting that “it’s great to see that the hard work we are putting in every day is paying off on race day.”
Despite their success in Boston, both teams will quickly refocus for the home stretch of the fall season as they return to the Schuylkill River for the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta Oct. 27.