Armed With New Coach, Bears Saw Tougher Competition in '09

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In a season with high hopes and expectations, the Cal men's crew team began its push for a national title by introducing its new coach, former U.S. Olympic coach Mike Teti.

For a team that prides itself on character and hard work, Teti looked to be a perfect fit for the championship-caliber club.

But with few regattas held in the fall, Teti had to ask the Bears to work hard while receiving little reward. In fact, Cal only raced three times in the fall, so it had to buy into the fact that its efforts would pay off in the end.

"The fall seems to go by so quickly every year," coxswain Zach Vlahos said. "We all have the same goal of winning the IRA, and since most of us didn't win last year, we had lots of motivation to keep working hard to reach our eventual goal."

The Bears raced at the Head of the Charles in Boston in mid-October. A fourth place finish had Cal confident going into winter camp to prepare for the spring.

And when spring came around, the Bears attacked early and often, sweeping all five races at the Pac-10 Challenge, winning the San Diego Crew Classic for the first time since 2005 and then defeating Oregon State two weeks later.

However, Cal had a setback when Pac-10 foe Washington swept the Bears in Seattle to win the Schoch Cup.

"I think after the Washington race, it was an ego hit," Vlahos said. "We thought we were better than we were. We realized after the loss that we would have to put out our best race every time on the water with so much even competition out there."

Indeed, the parity of the collegiate rowing field became more apparent as the West Coast crews continued to beat up on one another in their duel races.

Knowing full well that the Pac-10 championship was going to be a barn burner, Cal worked on all sides of rowing in its training while still making sure it was ascending into the IRAs, rather than peaking at the Pac-10s.

The Bears' hard work paid off in full as they were able to hold off both Stanford and the Huskies to claim their third Pac-10 title in the last five years.

"I think the Pac-10 was really good race, but we only won it by about two feet," Vlahos said. "We had a good race, but not a great race. We had a lot of room to improve and knew we had to get to work...

"After the Pac-10s we got much more technical, perfecting specific parts of the races, really making sure we were unified in what we were trying to do and when we were trying to do it."

And like the season had foreshadowed, Cal, the Cardinal and Washington were battling it out for the gold with 500 meters to go in the grand final of the IRA national championship.

But in the end, the Huskies seemed to execute the better race plan and surpassed both the Bears, who finished in second, and Stanford, which crossed the line in third, leaving the Huskies with the IRA victory and total team points trophy.

The Bears didn't go home empty handed, winning the gold medal in the varsity four and a silver in the second varsity eight, helping them earn second place in the overall team standings.

"The University of Washington has a great program, and they had a great race," Vlahos said. "But I guarantee no one on this Bears squad will forget what happened this year, and we're going to be ready to make some noise come next season."


Contact Danny Freisinger at [email protected]

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