Raider Crew Team Brings Home National Title, Respect

Lost in the celebration of last year’s tremendous athletic success was a Raider team that actually brought home a national championship. Without the attention similar to the football team, the Raider the rowing team brought home a gold medal from the national championship regatta.The team started the year in fairly perfunctory fashion, placing well in fall races and hitting its winter training in stride. One problem with rowing at Colgate is that the athletes can only hope to get back in the boats by April, if they are lucky. Some schools, such as powerhouses Cal-Berkeley and Washington, stay on the water all year, perfecting their strokes and teamwork to the point where they are months ahead of teams like Colgate when sprint season comes around. Once the dreaded winter clouds lifted, Colgate had much to do in order to catch up with its rivals and prepare for the races to come in the spring. Colgate raced an eight-man crew for the entire spring season, having mild success and most notably winning the Patriot League regatta. That is a good accomplishment in any year, but with the talent that sat in the boat last year, it was simply not good enough. After disappointing finishes at the New York State Championship and the ECAC Championships, the team could have given up and looked to next year. “We had high expectations all spring, we knew we could do great things, we just didn’t achieve those goals.” Said senior Dave Galos. The only race left in the season was the International Rowing Association (IRA) Championship regatta, at which Colgate had never done better than a bronze medal in more than 20 years of Raider rowing. If Colgate couldn’t medal at its last two races, it was certainly a long shot to even make the grand final here.The IRAs are held every year in early June, meaning that the team has to stay at school almost an extra month. Head coach Khaled Sanad pushed the team hard during the year, but the team experienced a change of pace when Sanad left campus to pursue coaching duties with both the U.S. and the Egyptian national teams. This left duties to assistant coach Warren Holland ’02. But once Holland took over in the late spring, the athletes were already in incredible shape, thanks to Sanad, and he had the privilege of preparing them for IRAs. “We were in such good shape, but almost worn out from spring training, it was a nice relaxing month that let us perform without pressure, and I think it turned out pretty well.” However, Holland is quick to give credit to Sanad. “Make no mistake, these are Khaled’s athletes, he spent the time training them.” Said Holland. “I am just glad to get the chance to work with them and share in something so incredible.”Due to a rule technicality, Colgate was unable to race an eight-man crew in the IRAs. The regatta allows no first-year rowers in varsity races, but Colgate’s program, unlike many of its IRA competitors, is not large enough to be able to meet that requirement. So instead of racing the eight that had been together all year, Holland made the decision to race two Varsity fours, hoping that the crews would have enough time to train together and get in sync. This, of course, created a significant challenge for Holland to decide on lineups in the two boats. The decisions were made, and the boats were set to train together. In the straight (or without coxswain) four, the lineup was Ryan Cole ’04 and seniors McCarthy, Paul Kelly , and Galos. This group had not only years of experience together, but a good balance of power and finesse that gave them a great shot to win a medal. “Warren [Holland] told us that the straight four had the potential to win Gold, and we trusted him” Kelly said. “Although this was the first straight four we had raced, we worked for the last three weeks of the season to make it happen.” At any large regatta, there are several heats of each race in order to decide the crews that get the chance to row in the grand final. “We knew we had a shot to win the gold, and focused on nothing else,” Holland said. “But simply making the grand final would have been gratifying to these guys.” These heats are no less intense than any grand final, and some crews often have to do two or even three of these in a day. In their first heat of the regatta, the raiders surprised some, but were unable to beat Harvard, placing second. The margin of victory over third-place Lehigh was encouraging, however, as Colgate beat the Mountain Hawks by more than 10 seconds. With the finish, Colgate had to win the second heat in order to make the grand final. The team responded by beating USC by four seconds, putting them into the grand final with the victory. Despite the grueling qualifying schedule, the Colgate straight four felt good going into Sunday afternoon due to the extensive training it endured all year. The grand final lineup was filled with what are called ‘sprint schools,’ referring to a regatta that many of the premiere collegiate teams in the country attend in the late spring. Colgate is not a team that usually contends with these schools. This can be intimidating to some less-experienced crews, but these four Colgate rowers had been there before, knowing that it is about what happens on the water and not what’s in the trophy case. The lineup for the race was Colgate, Harvard, Cornell, Yale, Lehigh and UMass-Amherst. As the starting gun fired, Colgate fell behind a little, forcing a frantic pace of strokes that would have to settle before the Raiders could find their groove. “I was supposed to be the only guy looking out of the boat, and out of the corner of my eye I could see that we fell behind a little off the start,” Galos said. “I think I mentioned we were down a couple seats, and that was it.” As the boats neared the halfway point, the race had become a dead heat. Somewhere between 1000 and 750 m to go, the Harvard boat ran into Colgate. As the Raiders attempted to put the collision behind them and focus on winning the race, they started to pull out ahead of all the other boats. “I’m pretty sure we all knew we were out ahead,” Kelly said. “Mike [McCarthy] had been more disciplined than us and hadn’t looked out of the boat at all. I think he thought there was another boat way out ahead, but the rest of us knew we just had to pull to the line.” With 500 m to go, Colgate had pulled away from the pack and had open water on the second place boat, Yale. McCarthy could feel the change in rowing style as the crew pulled away. “We hit our stride with a little less than half to go,” McCarthy said. “We relaxed and did what we trained all year to do. We just wanted it more and had put in the time to earn it.” As the men crossed the finish line, the elation was immediately apparent as arms shot up to the sky and a season of disappointment was completely wiped out. Even the IRA race officials were impressed. “This was one of the finest performances I have ever seen by a crew in this regatta,” one official said. “Colgate rowed so aggressively and yet maintained [its] pace and control throughout the entire 2,000 meters.”For almost seven minutes, these four Raiders had put almost nine months of intense training behind them and simply pulled on their desire to win a gold medal for Colgate, for themselves, and to prove that a little school in a small town had arrived. Coach Holland was on shore, sprinting to the awards dock to meet the rowers as they, and he, received their gold medals. As the regatta wound down and a maroon van headed back to Hamilton with some new hardware, it was already time to look ahead. Another season is yet to come for all but one of those national champions. The remaining three members of the boat, along with an entire team that watched their accomplishment, are preparing for a new year, with new goals. The goal will be different this year: to win the ECAC regatta in the Varsity Eight. If the Raiders are able to do this, they could possibly earn a trip to the Henley Regatta in England, writing another page of Colgate Rowing history. Holland commented on the challenges ahead. “Putting this season in perspective is important,” Holland said. “Three guys will return from that boat, but there are a lot of young guys in the boat too. These guys were in our boat my senior year when we won bronze at the ECAC’s were definitely inspired to get back to that level and they did it. Hopefully the accomplishments of last year will do the same for the young guys now in the boat, so they can do something very special this year.” Many people still will not fully appreciate the accomplishment of the team, but that is okay with them. Rowing isn’t about personal glory; its about a group of men sharing hardship and glory together. Whether taking home the gold or nothing, it is all about the journey.