Cal Returns To Drawing Board After Shaky Year

Team Hit Rough Patch Early in Season, But Gladstone Fiddles With Lineup for IRA Bronze

Photo: The Cal Crew didn't quite hit its stride until the Pac-10 Championship near the end of the season, but still came in third at the IRAs.
Nick Fradkin/Staff
The Cal Crew didn't quite hit its stride until the Pac-10 Championship near the end of the season, but still came in third at the IRAs.

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"Every (Bear) boat will cross the finish line first in Camden, N.J., this June at the IRA championship," Preston Lee said.

This was the last line of the 2008 Cal men's crew season preview; it was an expectation, not a guarantee.

It turned out that the Cal freshman eight was the only boat to cross the finish line first at the 2008 IRA grand finals. The varsity finished third, and the junior varsity finished second. Throughout the difficult season, the Bears had constantly reminded themselves that their IRA finish was the only thing by which people will remember their season.

Since coach Steve Gladstone began his second stint at Cal, the Bears have continually set the gold standard in the sport. The year started much like they always had, filled with lofty expectations and boatloads of talent.

After the first weekend, Cal looked to be in top form as always. But the San Diego Crew Classic delivered some of the nation's top competitors, and the Bears finished fourth in the grand final.

Two weeks later, the No. 4 Bears began a three week homestand hosting teams that would eventually finish No. 1, 2 and 5 at the IRAs.

First, Cal suffered a defeat at the oars of Wisconsin, who would go on to claim the 2008 national title.

The following weekend, the Bears were taken down by the undefeated and then-No. 1 Huskies. Three losses in a row, and yet, the lowest point was still to come.

Cal had beaten Stanford in the Big Row for seventeen straight years-until this year. Lastly, the Bears fell to the ninth-ranked Cardinal.

"It was after the Stanford race, I said to the guys, 'This is a turning point. If you are willing to persevere and have faith in each other and faith in what I'm teaching you, then we still have a chance,'" Coach Steve Gladstone said. "We could've gone down the tubes from that point. But these guys didn't let that happen."

Gladstone's seat-racing process continued every day at practice until the Pac-10 Championships, which resulted in a different varsity lineup nearly every competition. But the Bears' showed faith in the system and nearly pulled off a momentous upset at the Pac-10s.

Two weeks after the Stanford debacle, Cal looked as if they were going to row their way to a Pac-10 crown. But after leading for the whole race, the Bear shell was overtaken by the Huskies with only 250 meters to go. Still, a second-place finish was the result that Cal had needed, giving them that long-awaited spark just in time for the IRAs.

The Bears ended up placing third at the IRAs, and today, the result has left them hungry for a return to the Cal that thrives off of national domination.

"We were disappointed because we wanted to come away with the gold," varsity coxswain Michael Porter said. "It was a better way to end the season than the way it had been headed. Our motivation is to beat Washington and win the IRAs next year."


Contact Joseph Cannon at [email protected]

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