Cal Avoids Surging Huskies to Win Varsity Four Title at IRAs

Bears Complete 2009 Season With Second Place in Varsity Eight And Overall Standings

Photo: Cal men's crew had a strong showing at this weekend's end-of-season IRA Regatta. The varsity four won the national championship and the varsity eight took second place.
Nick Fradkin/File
Cal men's crew had a strong showing at this weekend's end-of-season IRA Regatta. The varsity four won the national championship and the varsity eight took second place.

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GOLD RIVER, Calif.-At the halfway point of the 2000-meter men's crew varsity eight IRA grand final, it was Cal and Stanford battling it out for ultimate supremacy.

With both clubs expending energy struggling to stay in first, practically playing leap frog with one another, Washington loomed in the distance.

Then, with 750 meters left, the Bears finally began to separate themselves from the Cardinal, leaving every fan with the belief that the race had been won.

However, to the crowd's astonishment, the Huskies began to close the gap on Cal.

Since the Bears had exerted so much energy battling Stanford for the first 1250 meters of the race, they didn't have enough juice to hold off the Washington crew flying down the course in lane one.

The Huskies posted the fastest final 500 meters of the regatta and, with a time of 1:22.92, posted their second gold medal finish in the past three years.

"Washington had a great race," junior coxswain Zach Vlahos said. "I think we also had a great race, but they were the one's who came out on top. Washington has a great crew and a solid program."

With the knowledge of Washington's race plan, other Cal boats attempted to counter the Huskies strategy with a plan of their own.

In fact, the foursome of Jovan Popovic, Ben Tuffnel, Jordan Sartor and Jarrod McClendon were able to hold off Washington to capture a national championship for the Bears in the varsity four.

After losing to the Huskies in the semifinal by .1 seconds, Cal coxswain Jack Zhou knew that a large lead would be essential in holding off Washington and its blazing sprint.

And that's what the Bears did, getting an early lead and never looking back to win the national championship in the varsity four for the second time in three years.

Cal's gold and silver, two fourth place finishes in the men's open four and freshman eight and a bronze medal in the second varsity eight, gave the Bears second place in the overall team standings for the second straight season.

Cal's 178 total team points was second to Washington's 198 points.

"We went into this weekend wanting to win the points trophy," Vlahos said. "We definitely have high standards at Cal, and we want to win it all. Washington has high standards too, and that's why we have such great racing."

The Bears will be bringing back 12 of their top 18 athletes next season, looking to claim their first team national championship since last winning it in 2006.

"While there's no question we're going to miss the leadership of this year's seniors, we have an extremely deep squad," Vlahos said. "Our varsity four won the IRA, which shows how deep we go. The freshman got fourth, but they have some strong guys who can seriously contribute. Next year, we're going to have two classes that won the IRA's on the freshman level.

"No one will forget Saturday's race, and we'll be determined to work hard enough to get that championship next year."


Contact Danny Freisinger at [email protected]

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