The Drexel University men’s and women’s crew teams competed at the 2019 Jefferson Dad Vail Regatta on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia May 10 and 11. This is the race that the rowers talk about all year long. It’s the largest collegiate regatta in the country, drawing in teams from across the nation. National Collegiate Athletic Association teams from all divisions compete for a chance at a title. The Dragons were attempting to win their seventh overall team title in a row and the third women’s team title in a row.
On the first day of competition, the Dragons had eight of their total nine boats compete.
For boats that were entered in events with more than 18 entries, the crews competed in a time trial, which is about 1900 meters. The teams were ranked by time, and the top 18 times were seeded into three semifinals. The men’s frosh/novice heavyweight and junior varsity heavyweight eights placed first, while the women’s heavyweight four placed seventh, the men’s heavyweight four placed 10th, the women’s varsity heavyweight eight placed fourth and the men’s varsity heavyweight eight placed third overall. With these finishes, the Drexel boats made it to the semifinals.
Later that day, the men’s third varsity heavyweight eight competed against Temple University, the University of Delaware, Marietta College and the University of Massachusetts in a semifinal. The Dragons placed third and claimed their spot in the grand final.
The women’s junior varsity heavyweight eight raced Fordham University, Saint Joseph’s University, Vassar College and Manhattan College. The Dragons came away with the win by 10 seconds over Fordham, which sealed their spot in the grand finals.
“Well going into it, we knew that there was going to be a lot of wind so our motto was ‘get out, stay out.’ I think we handled the conditions really well. In the wind, it was a really rough race, but I think that we did what we had to do, and we came out on top,” senior Stephanie Horn, the stroke seat of the women’s junior varsity eight, said.
“I think we performed really well under the circumstances. We went out there and knew what we had to do, and we just hammered it down the course. We know that we row well in tough conditions, and we were able to show that when we came out on top yesterday,” senior Natalie Alleva, the seven-seat of the women’s junior varsity eight and one of the three captains on the team, added.
“I’m really excited for this year. The 2V has won for the past two years, and we’re trying to get the third this year,” Horn said. “It’s gone by really fast. 241 days ago we were starting pre-season; we were doing the four-mile run test. And now we’ve been training two-a-days training for this race. Now we’re here. Now we got to show them what we got.”
“Up until this point, it didn’t really hit me. But now that I know that it’s my last Dad Vails, it’s my last race on the Schuylkill, I’m very nostalgic. It’s weird the way things turned out,” Alleva added. “I’m really, really excited. I’m ready to be on that medals dock.”
The men’s frosh/novice eight won their semifinal and advanced to the grand finals with the second fastest time behind the crew from the University of Western Ontario. The men’s junior varsity eight had a similar performance in their semifinal, easily advancing to the grand finals. They also had the second fastest time just behind the crew from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The women’s varsity four also advanced to the grand finals after their semifinal where they raced Boston University, UMass, Georgia Institute of Technology, Loyola University Maryland and MIT. The men’s varsity four missed out on the grand finals, as they came in fourth place in their semifinal behind Bowdoin College, Fordham and the University of Cincinnati.
The women’s varsity eight semifinal was an exciting one to watch. The decision came down to the last 500 meters of the race. Drexel was ahead of Bucknell University after taking a fantastic turn at Strawberry Mansion bridge that gave them an advantage over Bucknell. Bucknell was fighting back during the final sprint of the race, but the Dragons were able to hold onto their lead and defeat Bucknell by 0.695 seconds. Both crews advanced to the grand finals, and five of the six times that advanced were separated by fewer than two seconds.
The men’s varsity eight had a tough semifinal as they raced Temple, Michigan University, Marist College, The Ohio State University and the University of Minnesota. Drexel was in first, ahead of Temple and Michigan. As only the top two boats of each semifinal moved on to the grand finals, Michigan just missed the cut by 0.061 seconds.
On the day of finals, the men’s varsity four placed fifth in the second level final, which placed them 11th overall in the event.
The men’s frosh/novice eight competed for the Toby Wallace Bowl trophy against Temple, Delaware, Michigan, Western Ontario and Purdue University. They won by about a full boat length ahead of Temple with a time of 5:44.988.
The women’s third heavyweight eight had a straight final against Temple, UMass, Fordham and Bucknell and came in second overall behind Temple. The men’s third heavyweight eight came in fourth. The race came down to a photo finish for second and third place, but St. Joe’s took the win.
In the women’s junior varsity eight, Temple got the lead early. Bucknell and Drexel battled back throughout the race, but Temple had an open water advantage on the rest of the field in the last 500 meters. The Dragons ended up in third place and received the bronze medals for the event.
The men’s junior varsity eight had an incredible race against St. Joe’s, MIT, Michigan, Marist and Temple. They were leading from the 1000-meter mark and held on until the finish line. They won the Ernie Bayer trophy and gold medals.
To conclude the day, the women’s varsity four competed for the Margaret McNiff trophy but came in sixth place. The women’s varsity eight had a tough battle down the course as BU took an early lead. The Dragons battled back against Georgetown University and Bucknell and took second overall to win silver medals. This was a step up from last year, as the women’s varsity eight placed fourth in 2018.
The last race of the day was the men’s varsity eight grand final for the Richard O’Brien trophy. Colgate University looked like they had the lead in the last 250 meters of the race, but Drexel was close behind in second and put in a fantastic effort to try to defeat Colgate in the final strokes of the race. It came down to tenths of a second as the Dragons finished in second place.
For six years in a row, from 2013-2018, the teams won the overall team points trophy. The past two years, the women had won the women’s team points trophy. But sadly, this year, Temple University came away with the overall team points trophy as well as the women’s team trophy.
With wins in the men’s frosh/novice eight and junior varsity eight, the men’s team won the team title.The women’s team placed third overall as a team, and combined, the men’s and women’s teams placed second overall together.
“This year, this is the most that we’ve done of second practices. Coming in, it was like an extra workout. Now the freshmen know it as second practice. It has made leaps and bounds this year,” Alleva said, commenting on the team’s overall progress this year. “We’re the fastest we’ve ever been. I think that has built our athleticism and confidence. We’ve been getting out on the water as much as we can. It’s changed a lot in the right direction.”
“I’ve seen the intensity improve. Even in each practice, we’re pushing each other every day,” Horn added.
There’s always room for growth in a team. The women’s team now has to look ahead to the Colonial Athletic Association championships May 19 on the Cooper River. After defeating the reigning CAA champions, Northeastern University, at Eastern Sprints May 5, the women’s team has a chance to go to the NCAA championships for the first time in history. The women’s varsity eight was named the CAA Boat of the Week for the fourth time this season.
“Don’t take it for granted. There have been points where I’m like ‘X amount of days left.’ But now, I’m like ‘it’s crazy that I’m close to being done,’” Alleva advised to the rest of her team and future rowers. “Trust in everything. Trust in yourself and your teammates. Have a lot of faith in what you’re doing.”
The men will also look to continue their season at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association championships May 31-June 2 in Rancho Cordova, California.