On May 12, the Western Mustangs rowing team crossed the border to Philadelphia to compete in the 74th annual Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta—the largest collegiate regatta in the United States.
The Mustangs sent four squads to Philadelphia—the heavyweight women’s 8+, the lightweight women’s 4+, the freshmen 4+ and the heavyweight men’s 4+. But with 124 other teams in the mix, the purple and white knew the competition level at Dad Vail would be at an all-time high.
“We knew that the crews going into this event were going to be fast, so we had our work cut out for us,” Christopher Fernandes, coxswain of the freshmen 4+ team, said.
With high expectations and tough competition comes tons of training and hard work—and Volker Nolte, head coach of the rowing team, made sure his team was ready to take on all challengers.
“We have performance standards that the rowers have to meet who want to start at the regatta. Our expectation is that we are competitive and have a chance to fight for medals,” Nolte said. “We select very carefully the crews that we send to represent our team.”
And it seems like all of the Mustangs’ training paid off, as three of the four crews donning the purple and white reached the podium, with two of them winning gold medals.
The heavyweight men’s 4+ team had an especially strong showing at this year’s regatta. They placed first in all of their heats and in the semi-finals, never missing a beat. In the finals they finished with an impressive time of 6:46.6 minutes—12 seconds faster than second-place Cincinnati—to win gold and the Thomas A. Curran Cup.
The other golden team for Western was the lightweight women’s 4+ squad. In their starting heat, the Mustangs blasted out of the starting gates and never looked back on their way to winning their heat in a time of 7:32.497 minutes.
Laura MaLachlan, coxswain for the lightweight women’s 4+ crew explained once they got out in front in the starting heat, the team decided to try and save their energy for the finals by not bringing up their stroke rate. From there, the Mustangs entered the finals pretty confident, but still knew it would be tough to capture the gold.
“Going into the finals on Saturday we were confident, but not cocky, because we knew that second and third place more than likely did not [go all-out] either to save energy. So we needed to be prepared for a more intense race with the possibility of having to fight off some crews,” MacLachlan explained.
“Our plan was to do exactly what we did in our first race—get out front and stay out front. And we did exactly that. We finished with a time of 7:45.915 and second place with a time of 7:52.327. All crews had a faster time from the heats because the current was really strong flowing with the course.”
The third team to medal for the Mustangs was the freshman 4+ team, who beat 49 other crews to take home the bronze.
The Mustangs placed first in their heat, and barely lost to Amherst in the semi-finals. In the finals, the Mustangs drew lane six—which could have spelled some problems for them.
“One of the disadvantages of lane six is that since it’s a staggered start and there is a turn at the 500, we were starting behind everyone else. This meant that we needed to have an aggressive first 500 to take advantage,” Fernandes explained.
However, at the turn, the Mustangs were placing only fifth. It was then, however, that they showed their mettle and ended the race in remarkable fashion, crossing the finish-line less than 1-100th of a second over Virginia, and less than a second over Amherst.
Considering all rowers on this team only started rowing in the novice program last fall, winning bronze was an incredible feat.
“Many of the rowers that participated in the Dad Vail 2012 regatta are currently in their first year of studies or first year of eligibility in the Canadian Varsity system. This is only a bright outlook for Western’s program,” Fernandes said.
It may have been tough, but the Mustangs travelled across the border and completely dominated the competition, even though the United States is home to many talented rowers receiving very lucrative scholarships. Coach Nolte offered his insight as to how that was possible.
“We visit this biggest U.S. College regatta for many years, so we have a very good understanding about the competition. Of course, it is a special motivation to race our U.S. counterparts where most of them recruit student-athletes with big scholarships that we don’t have. However, hard training, good coaching and big hearts make up for a lot.”