One hundred twenty-six schools competed this year, bringing over 3,500 athletes to the banks of the Schuylkill River. Despite a three-hour rain delay Saturday afternoon, the Dragons successfully defended their title at collegiate rowing’s largest annual regatta .
The first day of racing saw a strong performance from the Dragons, with only two of their 13 boats failing to make it to Saturday morning’s semifinals.
The men’s lightweight four with coxswain got third in their heat, enough to snag them a spot in the semis. The women’s heavyweight four with coxswain, men’s pair without coxswain and men’s frosh/novice four with coxswain all came in second, ensuring all three boats’appearances in the semis.
What was truly impressive was the number of Drexel boats that cruised into the semifinals. Seven boats took first in their Friday heats, several doing so by a few seconds or more. Among those boats with first-place finishes were the men’s heavyweight four with coxswain, men’s frosh/novice eight and women’s frosh/novice eight. While a few seconds does not sound like much on paper, out on the river it is the difference between just edging out a victory and winning by open water.
The women’s heavyweight junior varsity and varsity eights both came in first in their heats, the former of which immediately earned a spot in Saturday afternoon’s final. The men’s heavyweight JV and varsity eights also saw first-place finishes, which both earned spots in the semis. The men’s varsity eight had the fastest time of the day at 05:41.276, a promising sign of things to come.
Eight out of the 11 boats that made it to Saturday morning’s semifinals continued on to the Grand Finals Saturday afternoon. The men’s heavyweight four with coxswain and the women’s frosh/novice eight both continued on to the finals with second-place finishes in the semis. The women’s JV heavyweight eight had already secured a spot after Friday’s heat, and the remaining five boats also all ensured their appearance in the Grand Finals after first-place finishes in their respective semifinals.
If the team was feeling pressure about bringing home the title again, it didn’t show. Waiting in anticipation of the Grand Final, it was nothing but confidence from the women’s varsity heavyweight eight.
“I think the biggest thing and the best thing about this boat is that we trust our speed and we don’t get frazzled when, maybe, we’re not up right away,”Kerry Walsh, a senior health services administration major and coxswain of the women’s varsity heavyweight eight, said. “We know that no matter what, we’re going to be charging into that second half, and that third 500 [meters] we’ll take over, and in our sprint we’re going to win.
“And I think that they’re just fearless. And there’s no doubt and no fear in their mind that we’re going to win every time. And so this lineup right now is undefeated and that’s what we’re trying to hold.”
Later that afternoon, Walsh went on to cox the women’s varsity eight to a silver medal. The boat, stroked by Olivia Babiec, fell to the University of Massachusetts for Drexel’s second silver of the day.
Also earning silver was the women’s JV heavyweight eight, stroked by Kendall Wenzke. The men’s frosh/novice four came home with a bronze.
Quite possibly the biggest story of the day was the men’s JV heavyweight eight bringing home Drexel’s only gold medal that day. It was a moment of pure joy for both the men of the winning boat and those watching, especially Drexel Athletics Director Eric Zillmer.
“These are the kind of kids Drexel wants as student athletes. They’re disciplined, they’re loyal, they work hard both in and out of the classroom,”Zillmer said. “So, to have a program like that makes everybody proud.
“The best thing for me is that I’m part of something bigger than me. It’s a community of people. I mean, there are so many people in the grand stands, especially parents. I had so many board members here, as well as President [John A.] Fry. Also, the alumni here that I recognize from previous generations.
“We’re now cross-generational.”
Fry echoed Zillmer’s positivity about maintaining the program’s continued success.
“They look fantastic, both the men and the women,” Fry told 6abc’s Alicia Vitarelli. “And you know, crew is a metaphor for our University. It’s all about teamwork. It’s all about hard work. It’s all about perseverance, discipline and ultimately about grit.”
An often gritty part of the team is the men’s heavyweight varsity eight, which took home the gold and the Richard O’Brien trophy last year. Despite high hopes for another first-place finish, however, the varsity men fell short, coming in fourth in the final.
“We were stopped just short of our goal this weekend, but in three weeks at the national championships, we get another chance to prove ourselves against the best in the country,”Marc Smith, senior coxswain of the men’s heavyweight eight, said. “The years flew. It’s really incredible, but I had some amazing moments with these guys that I’ll remember forever. The team is getting faster every year, and it will be exciting to see what the future holds for Drexel Crew.”
If the future looks anything like this past season then it will certainly be bright. The women’s team will compete in the Colonial Athletic Association Championships May 18 on the Cooper River in Camden County, N.J. The men will then head to Mercer Lake in West Windsor, N.J., May 30-June 1 for the Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championships.