The No. 1 ranked Cal men’s varsity eight won its third-consecutive IRA National Championship in Cherry Hill, NJ, on Saturday. Cal raced from the front all the way down the 2000-meter Cooper River racecourse to cross the line in 5 minutes and 34 seconds – three seconds faster than runner-up Princeton. The Bears capped another undefeated and secured Steve Gladstone a ninth IRA Championship. Cal’s JV eight and varsity four won IRA titles of their own and the freshman eight took bronze. It was the Bears 12th varsity IRA title moving Cal into a tie with Navy at No. 2 on the all-time list.
“I’m very, very happy,” Gladstone said. “All our crews performed well. They rowed precise and courageous races. It was a great race by the varsity.”
In the varsity challenge cup, Princeton had a better start and a slight advantage. By the time the Bears reached 400 meters, they were working on a half-length advantage. Cal had a length on third-place Washington at 800 and Princeton was dropping off Cal’s pace. By the 1000, Cal had a length on both the Tigers and Huskies and were readying themselves for the sprint to the finish. In the end, Cal took gold, Princeton silver and UW Bronze. Cornell Brown and Northeastern rounded out the field.
“Before the race we decided that we were going to go for it at the 1200,” said coxswain Michael Vallarelli. “We had a solid start and gradually settled in to race pace which was a bit higher than usual. With 800 meters to go we sat up and drove to the line.”
“That was it,” said junior Scott Frandsen. “That was flat out for 2000 meters.”
The Cal varsity four also emerged from the IRA with a National Championship. The Bears led form start to finish laying down a blistering first thousand to lead by open water at the midpoint of the race. Completely spent heading into the final 400 meters, the Bears held off Wisconsin and Cornell to claim gold, Georgia Tech, Minnesota and Princeton rounded out the top six.
It was a special day for senior and team captain Luke Walton. Walton with the help of his teammates, completed a perfect collegiate racing career – a feat never before accomplished by a four-year oarsman at Cal and believed to be an accomplishment he shares with only a handful of men (none of whom could be identified) in the history of the sport. Walton’s crews have recorded victories over 200 crews in 35 starts at 23 regattas. He has a frosh and three varsity IRA gold medals.
“We work real hard at Cal and I’ve been fortunate to be a part of this program,” said Walton. “The thing is that it is not about individuals here. We are a team. While my record is the culmination of a personal goal, it was the team that set the record. I just want people to realize that.”