For the first time since 1979, the Cornell men’s heavyweight rowing team journeyed out west to race in the San Diego Crew Classic — an annual two-day event that attracts hundreds of colleges and high schools, in addition to thousands of spectators. According to head coach Todd Kennett ’91, the Red travels to the west coast for a race about once every 10 years, and this particular trip had been in the making since last fall.
“A couple big alums wanted us to go there in a bad way, so they started helping out,” Kennett said.
Cornell’s competition in San Diego featured the likes of Stanford, Michigan and Navy, along with perennial powerhouses Harvard and Cal. The first Varsity eight boat — which included senior co-commodores Jim Voter and Brian Searle, seniors Gardner Yost, Alex Karwoski and Russ Mason, and juniors Chris Massey, Kevan Zadeh and Jim Rectenwald — finished third in its heat on Saturday, earning a spot in Sunday’s Grand Final. Cornell ended up placing fifth overall in the race for the Copley Cup, behind Harvard, Cal, Navy and Stanford.
The second Varsity eight crew finished second in its Saturday heat, ultimately coming in fourth behind Cal’s two boats and Harvard in Sunday’s Cabrillo Cup race.
“I don’t think any of us were too satisfied,” Kennett said. “We made the Grand Final, but the goal wasn’t to get in the Grand Final, the goal was to be a real player in the Grand Final, and we weren’t.”
The men’s heavyweight skipper described the first Varsity crew’s performance on Saturday as “questionable,” explaining that “it was a great day for racing, [and] as soon as the guys hit the beach they knew, I knew, we all knew — we barely had to say anything about the performance to know we did not hit what we were capable of.”
According to Voter, the team considers early-season races an opportunity to gauge what its competition is going to look like for the year.
“At least for our first race, we went into it with that mentality, and we probably didn’t race it with the same enthusiasm that we would have a normal race,” he said. “It certainly hurt us in the end — Navy ended up beating us by a little bit because of it.”
As a result, Cornell was assigned an outside lane in the Grand Final, which Voter explained is “notoriously bad for rowing in San Diego” — particularly on a day like Sunday, which featured windy, unfavorable conditions.
Voter noted that although the aforementioned factors contributed to a lackluster performance by the team, he took it as a good indication that “we’re still with those [other] crews after two poor races.”
“Hopefully from here we know what we have to make up to have a successful spring,” he continued.
This sentiment was echoed by Kennett, who added “We know there’s some improvements we have to make, and I think this was a great warmup for that. I love seeing two schools like Harvard and Cal, who we knew were going to both be tremendously good. … To see them early like that now allows us to know ‘Okay, here’s the standard, we have to step up.’ I think we can — I don’t think there’s any doubt.”
Meanwhile, back at the Cayuga Lake Inlet, the Red’s third Varsity eight boat and two freshmen crews stayed in Ithaca to take on the visiting Crimson. While the Varsity came out on top, the first and second freshmen boats both fell to a highly-touted Harvard crew.
While Kennett acknowledged the inherent difficulties of not being in two places at once, he said “I think it was far harder on [associate head coach] [Matt] Smith because … I only had one boat [in Ithaca], while he had two. And the one boat that I had here, our intern Dan Hutchison ’10 really runs that boat. So it was really hard for [Smith] because his boats were here, and they had a really tough race.”
Also in Ithaca over the weekend, the Cornell lightweights hosted their annual Ithaca Duals scrimmage. While the nature of the competition varies from year-to-year, on Saturday the Red’s top two crews raced each other, while the third boat took on Colgate.
“Our team uses the Ithaca Duals as a huge step in preparation for our first league race, which comes the following weekend,” explained senior lightweight commodore Michael Bohs. “We have to use the Duals as a test run for our race strategy that we will use throughout the year. It is a time where we can figure out which parts of the race we are executing well, and what we need to improve on.”
The Varsity boat won by only a two-second margin, which Bohs said is a testament to the team’s depth, “but also tells us that our top line has some work to do this upcoming week.”
Original Author: Alex Kuczynski-Brown