As the only public school west of the Mississippi with a crew team, Berkeley High has a strong tradition that no other team in the area can boast. And now the ’Jackets are getting started on a new tradition: this weekend they will enter two boats in the U.S. Rowing Youth Invitational Championships in Cincinnati, their first trip to the national event since its inception.
Thanks to their second-place finishes at the Southwest Regional Junior Rowing Association Championships at Lake Natoma three weeks ago, the men’s varsity four and men’s varsity double will race against the best the nation has to offer today and Saturday. The top two finishers from each of the nine regions in the country were invited to the event, and according to Berkeley’s coach, it didn’t take long for the ’Jackets to accept.
“The kids were really excited about qualifying, and they asked immediately if we could go,” Eric Christiani, the boys’ third-year coach, said. “Their enthusiasm was very encouraging, because it’s not a position we’ve been in before. It basically comes down to three more weeks of waking up early and putting in the hard work.”
But that hard work is just what one team member will remember the most. Matt Renner, the varsity four coxswain, said there was never a thought of turning down the chance to go to the nationals.
“It’s exactly what I was wishing for,” said Renner, a senior who will be on the Cal team next year. “The hard work is one of the things I’m most proud of. Not everyone is willing to get up and practice six mornings a week, but I’ve never regretted a minute of it.”
The varsity four boat will be manned by Eric Davidson, who will be Renner’s teammate at Cal next year, sophomore Jordan Bice, and juniors Yoshi Katsuura and David Gaber, with Renner at the helm. Katsuura and Bice will also row in the double boat.
Renner and his oarsmen will have to adjust to using a different boat in Cincinnati. The boat they have used this season was brand new, purchased in large part thanks to a big fundraising effort by team member Brandon Caesar. The boat was named for Caesar’s father, Phillip, who passed away last year.
But the team has no way of transporting the boat and will borrow one from a local club. In the Phillip Caesar, Renner sat in the bow; in the new boat, he will be in the stern. Renner said he didn’t know how big of a difference the new boat and the new position would make.
With just two seniors among the five ’Jackets, Christiani hopes this won’t be a one-time visit to Cincinnati for the ’Jackets.
“In some ways I’m approaching it as an important learning experience,” he said. “I hope we do as well as possible this year, but hopefully we’ll be back with an even larger team.”
For Renner and Davidson, this will be their last race for Berkeley. Renner said it was a big goal for him to make it to nationals before he graduated.
“I know a bunch of the alumni, and I think it’s great to be the first team in the school’s history to get to this point,” he said. “It seems like we’re always fighting from behind against the bigger private clubs, and it makes me proud because we’re so tough.”