Finally Breaking Through

For the first time in 18 years, Wisconsin men's rowing can call itself national champions.

CHERRY HILL, N.J. - Wisconsin's varsity eight defeated No. 1 Washington and the rest of the field to win the 2008 Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championships for the first time since 1990. Racing took place Saturday over 2000 meters on the Cooper River in Camden, N.J.

A heat wave enveloping the East Coast forced a compressed final day of racing at the three-day event to avoid the hottest portion of the day. With the race moved up to 12:24 p.m. CT, the Badgers waited about three hours less than scheduled to win the national title.

The No. 2 Badgers clocked a 5:31.173 to upset No. 1 Washington by just over 1.5 seconds. The previously undefeated Huskies timed a 5:32.894 to take the silver medal. California took the bronze well behind the top-two crews in 5:39.021. Rounding out the places in the Grand Final were fourth-place Northeastern (5:42.399), fifth-place Stanford (5:43.324) and sixth-place Columbia (5:44.565).

"It was real exciting," said head coach Chris Clark. "Very, very exciting. I've coached for a long time and we've had a lot of wins both here at Wisconsin and internationally and a lot of success, but we hadn't cracked this nut at the IRA championships. It is a matter of faith on their part. You get that belief, you get the effort, you get the execution combined with talent and that is what we had. It all comes together and works perfectly and you saw the result today."

Making up the national championship crew were senior coxswain Adam Barhamand (Naperville, Ill.), twin brothers and sophomores Grant and Ross James (Dekalb, Ill.), senior Derek Rasmussen (Darnestown, Md.), junior Zach Krupp (New Canaan, Conn.), junior Ed Newman (Palos Park, Ill.), sophomore Max Goff (Sun Prairie, Wis.), junior George Walters (Philadelphia) and senior Joe McMullin (Woodbridge, Va.).

"The varsity eight was certainly an exciting race," added Clark. "The conditions were boiling hot here, which is hardly favorable to Wisconsin, but had a bit of a tailwind, which is favorable.

"Our race plan was just to do exactly what we normally do - get out in the lead, be very strong in the middle 1000, hopefully, and finish it off. We had not sprinted once this whole year and we knew we were going to have to in this race.

"I didn't watch the race from the side; I watched it from near the finish. There a quite a few blind spots, so I was missing a little bit. The announcing - in certain places you can hear it clearly, but in some of the best viewing spots, you can't, so I didn't really hear it that clearly. I did hear that Washington got out to a four-seat lead and my only thought was, ‘well, they must be really fast to be able to be ahead of us at all, for even one stroke.' I think it became clear as the call continued that Washington paid dearly to ever be ahead of us because we have a very, very quick boat. It is the fastest boat I've ever had here.

"Sure enough we started reeling them back in. We are 25-pounds lighter per man than Washington and the heat and the pressure they put on, it is hard to maintain that. They were out of their element a little. A little lower cadence probably would have made it a little more reasonable for them. Anyway, we reeled them back in.

"Somewhere around 1000 meters we laid down our major move. You do that all the time in races, but half the time they are ineffective, but not this time. It took us from being down, to a seat or two up, by a half length and then that was it. The game was over. At one point we may have gotten two-third or three-quarters of a length. When I heard that, the race was over. I just prayed a seat didn't break, an oarsnap or we didn't hit a submerged log because it was done in the last 500 because I knew that they could sprint. They sprinted a bit. They come pretty hard and that was it."

In addition to the varsity eight championship, the Badgers had a stellar day, winning bronze medals in the second varsity eight, varsity pair and freshman four, while also taking fourth in the varsity four without coxswain, seventh in the open four, eighth in the freshman eight and 12th in the varsity four with coxswain.

Talking about the rest of the Badger boats, Clark said, "The day started out well with a third in the varsity pair - a bronze, which was good. The freshman four got a bronze and they hadn't had a medal in a couple of years so that was also very good. We were fourth in the straight four. That was a big surprise even in doing that well because they had not started well, so we were really happy with that.

"The open four won the petite final, which was great. That was probably the race they needed in the repechage, but they couldn't pull that together. It was a nice way to finish. The varsity four had some troubles along the way, but they finished one spot better than last year. They were 13th last year, this year they were 12th, so we were happier than that.

"The freshman eight was sort of a bubble crew, which often crews are. In other words a crew in the right circumstance, good enough to be in the final. It takes a little boat luck, but they didn't get that, so they ended up second in the petite. It was an excellent race. They rowed well, so we were happy with that.

"The second varsity eight had not had good races and that was the best race they had this year. The guys were almost afraid to be pleased with that. I said, ‘don't worry about being pleased. If that is the best you had and the best race all year, you did it at exactly the right time. Great job for the guys who beat you, but be pleased. Getting a medal at a major regatta is difficult to do so enjoy that and I think they are."

The national title for the UW's varsity eight was 18 years in the making and gave the Badgers their eighth national championship. The Badgers previous won national titles in 1951, 1959, 1966, 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1990.

Clark continued, "Even thought you expect it and train for it, you still can't believe your eyes when it is happening. You just say to yourself, ‘yep, that was pretty darn good.'"

Though it was the eighth national title for the Badgers, it was the first time the Wisconsin varsity eight has won the Eastern Sprints conference championship and the national championship in the same season. The national title concludes an undefeated season for the Badgers.

"There are some unbelievable crews out there at the very top," Clark stated. "We had no business to be there. They are pretty skinny guys, not so strong, pretty clever rowers, but clever usually gets bludgeoned down by power and experience, but not in this case. We'll take this one."

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